Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The law does not recognize expressly or exclude spousal rape. The government has not made available official statistics on rape or sexual assault, leaving the scale of sexual violence difficult to determine. Migrant female workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.
Violence against women remained a significant problem. According to reports, 30 to 37 percent of families suffered from domestic violence, and more than 90 percent of the victims were women. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts were beginning to provide protections to victims. However, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored situations of domestic violence. The All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) reported in 2010 that it received 50,000 domestic violence complaints annually. Spousal abuse typically went unreported; an ACWF study found that only 7 percent of rural women who suffered domestic violence sought help from police. While domestic violence tended to be more prevalent in rural areas, it also occurred among the highly educated urban population. The ACWF reported that approximately one-quarter of the 400,000 divorces registered each year were the result of family violence.
The number of victims’ shelters grew. According to ACWF statistics, in 2008 there were 27,000 legal-aid service centers, 12,000 special police booths for domestic violence complaints, 400 shelters for victims of domestic violence, and 350 examination centers for women claiming to be injured by domestic violence nationwide. The government operated most shelters, some with NGO participation. During the year the government provided 680,000 office spaces in government buildings for women’s resource centers.
Both the Marriage Law and the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests have stipulations that directly prohibit domestic violence; however, some experts complained that the stipulations are too general, fail to define domestic violence, and are difficult to implement. Because of the judicial standard of ruling out “all unreasonable doubt,” even if a judge was certain that domestic violence was occurring, he or she could not rule against the abuser without the abuser’s confession. Only 10 percent of accused abusers confessed to violent behavior in the family, according to 2009 data from the Institute of Applied Laws, a think tank associated with the court system. Collecting evidence in domestic violence cases remained difficult: The institute reported that 40 to 60 percent of marriage and family cases involved domestic violence; however, less than 30 percent were able to supply indirect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.
Sexual Harassment: After the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights was amended in 2005 to include a ban on sexual harassment, the number of sexual harassment complaints increased significantly. A 2009 Harvard University study on sexual harassment in the country showed that 80 percent of working women in the country experienced sexual harassment at some stage of their career. The same study found that only 30 percent of sexual harassment claims by women succeeded.
The founder of an education training business in Shenzhen was sentenced to jail during the year after a female employee told the police that he raped her. After his conviction, other employees reported they had been raped or harassed by him as well.
According to information on the ACWF Web site, women who had been sexually harassed had increasingly better access to useful information and legal service hotlines through the Internet. A Beijing rights lawyer told ACWF that approximately 100 to 200 million women in the country had suffered or were suffering sexual harassment in the workplace, but very few legal service centers provided counseling.
Reproductive Rights: The government restricted the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. National law prohibits the use of physical coercion to compel persons to submit to abortion or sterilization. However, intense pressure to meet birth limitation targets set by government regulations resulted in instances of local family-planning officials using physical coercion to meet government goals. Such practices included the mandatory use of birth control and the abortion of unauthorized pregnancies. In the case of families that already had two children, one parent was often pressured to undergo sterilization.
The national family-planning authorities shifted their emphasis from lowering fertility rates to maintaining low fertility rates and emphasized quality of care in family-planning practices. In May 2010 a representative of the National Population and Family Planning Commission reported that 85 percent of women of childbearing age used some form of contraception. Of those, 70 percent used a reversible method. However, the country’s birth limitation policies retained harshly coercive elements, in law and practice. The financial and administrative penalties for unauthorized births were strict.
From February to April 2010, Xuzhou in Jiangsu Province was the site of a high-profile court proceeding in which a 30-year-old female plaintiff sued the local family-planning bureau, claiming that she had been barred from a civil service position in the county government for giving birth to a child before marriage. Although she married the father soon after the child’s birth, the court ruled that the family-planning bureau’s original decree citing the birth as out of wedlock held, which made her ineligible for the government position. In December 2010 in Taizhou, Jiangsu, in a similar case involving a male plaintiff, the court ruled that the male plaintiff also was ineligible for a civil service position.
The 2002 National Population and Family-planning Law standardized the implementation of the government’s birth limitation policies; however, enforcement varied significantly. The law grants married couples the right to have one birth and allows eligible couples to apply for permission to have a second child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations. The one-child limit was more strictly applied in urban areas, where only couples meeting certain conditions were permitted to have a second child (e.g., if each of the would-be parents was an only child). In most rural areas, the policy was more relaxed, with couples permitted to have a second child in cases where the first child was a girl. Ethnic minorities were subject to less stringent rules. Countrywide, 35 percent of families fell under the one-child restrictions, and more than 60 percent of families were eligible to have a second child, either outright or if they met certain criteria. The remaining 5 percent were eligible to have more than two children. According to government statistics, the average fertility rate for women nationwide was 1.8 (representing the number of children each woman of child-bearing age has); in the country’s most populous and prosperous city, Shanghai, the fertility rate was 0.8.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission reported that all provinces had eliminated the birth-approval requirement before a first child is conceived, but provinces may still continue to require parents to “register” pregnancies prior to giving birth to their first child. This “registration” requirement can be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces, as some local governments continued to mandate abortion for single women who become pregnant. Provinces and localities imposed fines of various levels on unwed mothers.
Regulations requiring women who violate family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist in the 25th, 42nd, and 22nd provisions of the Population and Family Control Regulation of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces, respectively. An additional 10 provinces--Fujian, Guizhou, Guangdong, Gansu, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Sichuan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Yunnan--require unspecified “remedial measures” to deal with unauthorized pregnancies.
The law requires each person in a couple that has an unapproved child to pay a “social compensation fee,” which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. The law grants preferential treatment to couples who abide by the birth limits.
Social compensation fees were set and assessed at the local level. The law requires family-planning officials to obtain court approval before taking “forcible” action, such as detaining family members or confiscating and destroying property of families who refuse to pay social compensation fees. However, in practice this requirement was not always followed, and national authorities remained ineffective at reducing abuses by local officials.
The population control policy relied on education, propaganda, and economic incentives, as well as on more coercive measures. Those who violated the child-limit policy by having an unapproved child or helping another do so faced disciplinary measures such as social compensation fees, job loss or demotion, loss of promotion opportunity, expulsion from the CCP (membership is an unofficial requirement for certain jobs), and other administrative punishments, including in some cases the destruction of private property.
To delay childbearing, the law sets the minimum marriage age for women at 20 and for men at 22. It continued to be illegal in almost all provinces for a single woman to have a child, with fines levied for violations. The law states that family-planning bureaus will conduct pregnancy tests on married women and provide them with unspecified “follow-up” services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo periodic pregnancy tests.
Officials at all levels remained subject to rewards or penalties based on meeting the population goals set by their administrative region. Promotions for local officials depended in part on meeting population targets. Linking job promotion with an official’s ability to meet or exceed such targets provided a powerful structural incentive for officials to employ coercive measures to meet population goals. An administrative reform process initiated pilot programs in some localities that sought to remove this linkage for evaluating officials’ performance.
Although the family-planning law states that officials should not violate citizens’ rights in the enforcement of family-planning policy, these rights, as well as penalties for violating them, are not clearly defined. By law citizens may sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy. However, there exist few protections for whistleblowers against retaliation from local officials. The law provides significant and detailed sanctions for officials who help persons evade the birth limitations.
According to online reports, women who registered newborns in Nanhai District, Foshan, Guangdong Province, were requested to insert an IUD (intra-uterine device). Many posted online complaints that officials threatened to not register the baby if the mother did not comply. This allegedly occurred even when the newborn was the mother’s only child.
Government regulations implemented in 2008 make family-planning services compulsory, including reproductive health information and services, contraception devices, and family-planning technical services, available and free to migrants in their temporary residences. Previously, migrants were often forced to return to the place of their legal household registrations to receive these compulsory services.
According to 2010 statistics, the maternal mortality ratio was an estimated 30 per 100,000 live births. Regional differences indicated that the maternal mortality ratio in rural areas was much higher than in urban areas and also higher in poorer regions than in more developed regions. Rural, poor, migrant, and ethnic minority women continued to suffer the greatest mortality rates due to a lack of access to quality health services.
Discrimination: The constitution states that “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, and access to education. The ACWF was the leading implementer of women’s policy for the government, and the State Council’s National Working Committee on Children and Women coordinated women’s policy. Nonetheless, many activists and observers were concerned that the progress made by women over the past 50 years was eroding. They asserted that the government appeared to have made the pursuit of gender equality a secondary priority as it focused on economic reform and political stability. Women continued to report that discrimination, sexual harassment, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.
Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate a sex discrimination suit because the vague legal definition made it difficult to quantify damages, so very few cases were brought to court. Some observers noted that the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination during maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, and sexual harassment. Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate that women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts argued that in practice this was rarely the case, due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation. In determining child custody in divorce cases, judges make determinations based on the following guidelines: Children under age two should live with their mothers; children two to nine years of age should have custody determined by who can provide the most stable living arrangement; and children 10 and over should be consulted when determining custody.
Many employers preferred to hire men to avoid the expense of maternity leave and child care, and some lowered the effective retirement age for female workers to 50 (the official retirement age for men was 60 and for women 55, with the exception of men and women involved in physically demanding jobs, for which the retirement age was 55 and 45, respectively). In addition, work units were allowed to impose an earlier mandatory retirement age for women than for men. Lower retirement ages also reduced pensions, which generally were based on the number of years worked. Job advertisements sometimes specified height and age requirements for women.
Women earned less than men, despite government policies mandating nondiscrimination in employment and occupation. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the local labor bureaus were responsible for ensuring that enterprises complied with the labor law and the employment promotion law, each of which contains antidiscrimination provisions.
A high female suicide rate continued to be a serious problem. There were approximately 590 female suicides per day, according to a Chinese Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention report released in September. This was more than the approximately 500 per day reported in 2009. The report noted that the suicide rate for females was three times higher than for males. Many observers believed that violence against women and girls, discrimination in education and employment, the traditional preference for male children, birth-limitation policies, and other societal factors contributed to the high female suicide rate. Women in rural areas, where the suicide rate for women was three to four times higher than for men, were especially vulnerable. Government research indicating that 58 percent of all suicides involved the use of pesticide led to the implementation of a trial program in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces to control its sale and storage to attempt to reduce suicide attempts.
The UN Economic and Social Council reported that less than 2 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. According to 2008 official government statistics, women comprised more than 70 percent of all illiterate persons above the age of 15. In some underdeveloped regions, the female literacy rate lagged behind the male literacy rate by 15 percent or more.
While the gap in the education levels of men and women narrowed, differences in educational attainment remained a problem. Men continued to be overrepresented among the relatively small number of persons who received a university-level education. According to Ministry of Education statistics, in 2008 women accounted for 50 percent of undergraduate students, 46 percent of postgraduate students, and nearly 35 percent of doctoral students. Women with advanced degrees reported discrimination in the hiring process as the job distribution system became more competitive and market driven.
According to the 2010 national census, the national average male-female sex ratio at birth was 118 to 100. Sex identification and sex-selective abortion (commonly referred to as the “Two Nons”) were prohibited under administrative law, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth limitation policy.