China adopts a civil code

Developed over the past three years, a Chinese civil code should be released this week in conjunction with the Chinese Parliament’s annual session. The text deals specifically with the issue of divorce or privacy.

Divorce, sexual harassment, organ donation, private life: the Chinese Parliament, which meets at an annual meeting, this week’s debate on the publication of the country’s very first civil law, to better deal with several aspects of citizens’ lives.

Since 2017, China has been working on developing a civil code to incorporate different legal texts into a single document, while the country’s economic development has been accompanied by major social changes.

The legislative proposals tabled by the Communist regime to the National People’s Congress (ANP) are rarely accepted by the deputies and the code should be adopted on Thursday.

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The text stipulates that all couples applying for divorce must first “consider” for a month, in a country where marriage remains the norm and where separations explode. More than four million divorces were pronounced last year, a figure hoped for over the past decade.

“Unexplained divorces are an increasingly common phenomenon that does not promote family stability,” a spokesman for Parliament’s Law Commission recently said.

But this provision is far from unanimous. Several lawmakers argue that this period of reflection should not apply to cases of domestic violence, bigamy, marital rape or other rights violations.

No legalization of same-sex marriage

Legalization of same-sex marriage was one of the most important proposals from citizens when legislators last year sought advice on how to change civil law. But the current project still defines marriage as “the union between a man and a woman”.

The text also omits any reference to “family planning”, which since 2016 has limited the number of permitted children per couple to two.

In this country of 1.4 billion inhabitants, where surveillance is widely practiced, the Civil Code can for the first time define the concept of integrity. According to the text proposal, everything that an individual “does not want others to know” is considered private information.

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However, the framework remains blurred. Lester Ross, legal advisor to the US Chamber of Commerce in China, does not refer to an individual’s accounts and passwords, to medical, financial and communications data in a country that is still extremely connected. The concepts of religion and marital status are not mentioned either.

However, the text prohibits companies, individuals – and even the state – from accessing this information without their consent. It remains to be seen how these rules would be applied in practice.

Authorize donation of organs from deceased relatives

In China, land remains state property. However, individuals or companies can purchase a concession for a maximum of 70 years.

Local authorities, authorized to expropriate land, have abused this power under the pretext of construction projects that serve “the public interest”. The new text frames this view more strictly.

It also requires communities to communicate publicly about “all actions taken by the state in relation to private property” to make land transactions more open.

The definition of “sexual harassment” is expanded to include inappropriate acts in the workplace or attacked by a teacher in a school.

The Code also proposes to approve the donation of organs from deceased relatives. The transition is expected to end a huge shortage since China ceased the controversial practice of organ harvesting from people executed after the death sentence.

With AFP