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 did not make 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 provided protections to victims, including through restraining orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. 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. Nonetheless, 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, and 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 injuries from domestic violence. Many domestic violence shelters had inadequate facilities, required extensive documentation, or went unused. The government operated most shelters, some with NGO participation. In 2012 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 flawed 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, but some experts complained that the stipulations were too general, failed to define domestic violence, and were 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, according to 2009 data from the Institute of Applied Laws. The institute reported that, although 40 to 60 percent of marriage and family cases involved domestic violence, 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. In February a Beijing court granted Lee a divorce on the grounds of domestic abuse and issued a three-month protection order against her former husband. This case set a precedent because the court acknowledged domestic violence as grounds for divorce, granted a protection order, and ordered the former husband to pay compensation for the violence she had endured during their marriage.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment, and the number of sexual harassment complaints 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 careers. The same study found that only 30 percent of sexual harassment claims by women achieved favorable resolutions. In November an NGO published its survey of female manufacturing workers in Guangzhou, which indicated that as much as 70 percent of Guangzhou’s female workforce had been sexually harassed. Approximately half did not pursue legal or administrative actions, while 15 percent of respondents reported leaving the workplace to escape their harasser.
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 in 2012, 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 and, according to press reports, subsequently detained six suspects in the assault.
According to information on the ACWF website, the internet and hotlines made it easier for women who were sexually harassed to obtain useful information and legal service. A Beijing rights lawyer told the ACWF that approximately
100-200 million women in the country had suffered or were suffering sexual harassment in the workplace but that very few legal service centers provided counseling.
Reproductive Rights: The government restricted the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. Although national law prohibits the use of physical coercion to compel persons to submit to abortion or sterilization, 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 Population and Family Planning Commission reported that 13 million women annually underwent abortions caused by unplanned pregnancies. An official news media outlet also reported at least an additional 10 million chemically induced abortions or abortions performed in nongovernment facilities. Government statistics on the percentage of all abortions that were nonelective was not available. According to Health Ministry data released in March 2012, a total of 336 million abortions and 222 million sterilizations had been carried out since 1971.
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 contraception. Of those, 70 percent used a reversible method. A survey taken in September, however, found that only 12 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 35 had a proper understanding of contraceptive methods. The country’s birth-limitation policies retained harshly coercive elements in law and practice. The financial and administrative penalties for unauthorized births were strict.
The 2002 national population and family-planning law standardized the implementation of the government’s birth-limitation policies, although enforcement varied significantly. The law grants married couples the right to have one birth and allows 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 both of the would-be parents were an only child). In most rural areas couples were 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, and in the country’s most populous and prosperous city, Shanghai, the fertility rate was 0.8. In December the NPC Standing Committee amended the one-child policy to allow couples in which at least one spouse is an only child to have two children.
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 could be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces, since 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 Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces. Other provinces – Fujian, Guizhou, Guangdong, Gansu, Jiangxi, Qinghai, Shanxi, and Shaanxi – require unspecified “remedial measures” to deal with unauthorized pregnancies. A number of online media reports indicated that migrant women applying for household registration in Guangzhou were required to have an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) implanted.
In October, Western media reported that officials from the Shandong Province Family Planning Commission forced their way into the home of Liu Xinwen, dragged her to a nearby hospital, and injected her with an abortion-inducing drug. Shandong officials reportedly forced Liu, who was six months into her pregnancy, to sign a document stating that she had agreed to the abortion.
The government continued to impose “child-raising fees” on violators of the one-child policy. In the first half of the year, for example, Guangzhou City collected more than RMB 300 million ($49 million) in such fees without disclosing how the money was used. Guangdong Province reportedly refused to disclose the amount of fees it had collected from one-child policy violators. Family planning officials in Tunchang County, Hainan Province, used fines and terminated employment as punishment for one-child policy violators.
On December 30, overseas media reported that officials at Nurluq Hospital in Keriye County of Xinjiang’s Hotan Prefecture carried out forced abortions on four pregnant women. According to the report, the deputy chief of Hotan’s Arish Township confirmed that authorities had carried out four of six planned abortions utilizing abortion-inducing drugs. One woman escaped and another was in the hospital awaiting the procedure, the report stated. The head of the township’s Family Planning Department stated the abortions were carried out following orders from higher authorities. The husband of one victim stated that his wife had been seven months’ pregnant when the procedure was performed and that the baby had been born alive before succumbing to the effects of the chemical toxins hours later.
The law requires each parent of 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. 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 had an unapproved child or helped 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.
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 criterion 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, but few protections for whistleblowers against retaliation from local officials exist (see section 4, Whistleblower Protection). 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. Many posted online complaints that officials threatened not to register the baby if the mother did not comply, even when the newborn was the mother’s only child. Other reports indicated that a mother could not enroll her child in school if she was unwilling to insert an IUD.
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, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. 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. 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.
Despite government policies mandating nondiscrimination in employment and remuneration, women reportedly earned 66 percent as much as men. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the local labor bureaus are responsible for ensuring that enterprises complied with the labor law and the employment promotion law, each of which contains antidiscrimination provisions.
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.
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 this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation. A 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 belongs 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; custody of children two to nine years of age should be determined by who can provide the most stable living arrangement; and children 10 and over should be consulted when determining custody.
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 2012 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 men. 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, with a literacy rate of 91 percent for women above 15 compared with 97 percent for men above 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 universities. According to 2010 Ministry of Education statistics, women accounted for 49.6 percent of undergraduate students and 50.3 percent of master’s students in 2012 but only 35 percent of doctoral students. Women with advanced degrees reported discrimination in the hiring process, since the job distribution system became more competitive and market driven.
Gender-based 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 were prohibited, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.