China clarifies birth law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 December, 1993, 12:00am

CHINA does not often feel it necessary to explain to an international audience the aims of domestic legislation. So it may say something for the force Beijing attributes to opinion abroad that its Public Health Ministry put out a statement yesterday attempting to put its draft law on ''eugenics and health protection'' in a more positive light. Specifically, it denied any similarities with Adolf Hitler's racist eugenics.

Certainly, changing the draft's English description to the less emotive ''natal and health care'' law will give a clearer idea of the law's intention and help improve its image abroad, as will the reassurance that no pregnancy will be terminated without the consent of the mother or her guardian.

It would be a shame, however, if the differences were only cosmetic. The draft law has been relatively uncontroversial within China because it codifies and extends the practices of certain provincial governments - in particular the sterilisation of mentally handicapped people who marry. It is to be hoped that the new talk of ''long-term contraceptive measures'' is not a euphemism for sterilisation.

And the requirement that the woman consent to an abortion must be genuine. Otherwise, the pressure to comply would make a mockery of the ministry's talk of ''individual choice''. But if the practice matches the new statement of intent, the law will not be as Draconian as first appeared.