Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The penalties for rape can range from three years in prison to a death sentence with a two-year reprieve and forced labor. The law does not address 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 at least a quarter of families suffered from domestic violence, and more than 85 percent of the victims were women. Domestic violence against women included verbal and psychological abuse, restrictions on personal freedom, economic control, physical violence, and rape. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts were beginning to provide protections to victims. For example, on February 22, a district court in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, issued a restraining order prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from going within 300 feet of his victim, the first case of its kind in the country. In March, Shaanxi Province designated the Number Two People’s Hospital as an antidomestic-violence service station to treat victims of domestic violence, the first designation of its kind. However, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. In 2010 the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) reported 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. Almost 30 percent of respondents in a recent study felt that domestic violence should be kept a private matter.
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.
According to ACWF statistics, nationwide in 2008 there were 12,000 special police booths for domestic violence complaints, 400 shelters for victims of domestic violence, and 350 examination centers for women claiming to injuries by domestic violence. Many domestic violence shelters had inadequate facilities, required extensive documentation, or were generally unused. 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.
There was no strong legal mechanism to protect women from domestic abuse. According to the ACWF, laws related to domestic violence were not specific enough to prevent domestic violence, since there was no national provision for dealing with offenders. During the year the creation of such mechanisms was added to the NPC’s legislative agenda, the fifth time the ACWF submitted such a proposal. 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 standards of evidence, even if certain that domestic violence was occurring, a judge 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. 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.
Public support increased in the fight against domestic violence. A recent survey found that more than 85 percent of respondents believed that further antidomestic violence legislation was needed. A high-profile case, Kim Lee’s case against her celebrity husband, Li Yang, led to public outcry when she posted pictures of her injuries on a social networking site. After months of waiting, Lee was granted a civil protection order forbidding her husband from approaching within 200 yards of her.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment, and the number of sexual harassment complaints has increased significantly. A 2009 Harvard University study 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.
Sexual harassment was not limited to the workplace. According to a China Youth Daily survey reported in September, approximately 14 percent of women had been sexually harassed while riding the subway, and 82 percent of those polled believed the problem existed. At a Hainan Province festival on August 23, a dozen women were pinned down by a crowd of men who mauled the women and stripped off their clothes in broad daylight. Police escorted the women away, but no other action was taken.
According to information on the ACWF Web site, the Internet and hotlines have made it easier for women who have been sexually harassed to obtain useful information and legal service. A Beijing rights lawyer told the 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 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, a survey taken in September found that only 12 percent of women between ages 20 to 35 had a proper understanding of contraceptive methods. The country’s birth-limitation policies retained harshly coercive elements in law and practice. The National Population and Family Planning Commission reported that 13 million women annually underwent abortions caused by unplanned pregnancies. The financial and administrative penalties for unauthorized births were strict.
In 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 upheld the family-planning bureau’s decree that the birth of an out-of-wedlock child made her ineligible for the government position. Later that year 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 their first child was a girl. Ethnic minorities were subject to less stringent rules. Nationwide, 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; 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 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 became pregnant. Provinces and localities imposed fines of various amounts on unwed mothers.
Regulations requiring women who violate family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist in the 25th and 22nd provisions of the Population and Family Control Regulation of Liaoning 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.
In April government officials in Fujian City seized a woman and forced her to abort her child. In June authorities forcefully took a seven-month pregnant woman, Feng Jianmei, from her home to a hospital in Shaanxi Province and induced the abortion of her child. In response to national and international media attention, the government launched an investigation, which determined that the local family planning bureau had violated her rights. Two local officials were fired and five otherwise sanctioned. Feng was awarded 70,000 RMB ($11,230) in compensation.
In June family planning officials in Changsha, Hunan Province, forcefully took Cao Ruyi from her home and beat her to pressure her into having an abortion. The officials stopped short of inducing an abortion after a public outcry but forced Cao to sign a document agreeing to pay unspecified fines. Local officials also pressured her husband’s employer into firing him.
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.
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, 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 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 removed 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, few protections for whistleblowers against retaliation from local officials exist. 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 (intrauterine device). Many posted online complaints that officials threatened to not register the baby if the mother did not comply, even when the newborn was the mother’s only child.
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 expressed concern that discrimination was increasing. 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 sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. 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. An August 2011 interpretation of the country’s marriage law by the Supreme People’s Court exacerbated the gender wealth gap by stating that after divorce, marital property belonged solely to the person registered as the homeowner in mortgage and registration documents--in most cases the husband. 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 childcare (paid paternity leave exists for men in some localities, but there is no national provision for paternity leave). Work units were allowed to impose an earlier mandatory retirement age for women than for men, and some employers lowered the effective retirement age for female workers to 50 (in general, the official retirement age for men was 60 and for women 55). Lower retirement ages also reduced pensions, which generally were based on the number of years worked. Job advertisements for women sometimes specified height and age requirements.
Despite government policies mandating nondiscrimination in employment and occupation, women reportedly earned 66 percent as much as men. 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 report released in September by the Chinese Center for Disease and Control and Prevention. This was more than the approximately 500 per day reported in 2009. The report noted that the suicide rate for women 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.
The World Bank reported that in 2009, 99 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate. Women above the age of 15 were 91 percent of literate, compared with 97 percent of men above the age of 15.
Women faced discrimination in higher education. The required score for the National Higher Entrance Exam was lower for men than for women at several Chinese universities and often based on subject. According to Ministry of Education statistics, women accounted for 49.6 percent of undergraduate students and 50.3 percent of master’s students during the year but only 35 percent of doctoral students in 2010. Women with advanced degrees reported discrimination in the hiring process as the job distribution system became more competitive and market driven.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: 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, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.