11 August 2006

Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Women Recognizes China's Advances since last Review, but Urges Greater Progress

Experts Voice Concern over High Male to Female Ratio of Births; China's Delegation Outlines Steps Taken to Address Problem

NEW YORK, 10 August (UN Headquarters) -- Experts considering China's report in the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recognized China's impressive advances since its last report, but, urged that, as a major developing country and a permanent member of the Security Council, it achieve greater progress towards realizing the goals of equality between men and women.

The 23 members of the Committee act in their personal capacity to monitor compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that is often hailed as women's international bill of rights - the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  China ratified the Convention in 1983 and its combined fifth and sixth periodic report was one of two taken up today in parallel meetings, a format introduced this year to facilitate consideration of country reports.

Introducing the report, the Executive Vice Chairperson of China's National Working Committee on Women and Children of the State Council, Huang Qingyi, said the Committee's comments on consideration of the last report in 2003 had served as the basis for efforts on behalf of women since then.  A delegation of some 40-Government representatives responded today to the questions posed by experts.

The high male to female sex ratio at birth in China was of key concern to the experts, and China's representatives said the goal was to reach a balanced ratio by 2015.  A 2001 Law on Population and Family Planning explicitly prohibited non-medical prenatal sex selection and a Care for Girls Initiative had been initiated in 2003.  Other measures had been taken in the following years.  In January of this year, a new mandatory certification system was introduced to improve registration and reduce abandonment, with non-registration a punishable offence.

"Why were women so undervalued in China?" one expert asked.  A delegation representative said a long history provided both advantages and backward concepts that needed to be changed.  The People's Republic had given high priority since 1949 to instituting laws to rectify inequalities and, women were encouraged to take advantage of measures that promoted their equality with men.

For example, a law had been passed in 2004 to protect human rights, and in 2005 had been amended to explicitly provide for the protection of women's rights.  The amendment defined gender equality as a fundamental national objective that opposed all forms of discrimination against women, and was illustrative of a move from merely protecting rights to punishing discrimination.  Other laws were then amended to reflect that priority, including the 2001 Marriage Law, that for the first time in China's history, prohibited domestic violence.  The Law on Compulsory Education was amended in June of this year to emphasize that equal rights of girls to education must be guaranteed.

Also, governmental mechanisms to promote women's rights had been strengthened within the National Programme for the Development of Chinese Women (2001-2010), with a high-level conference system that included regular national conferences on women's issues.  The year 2005, in fact, had been designated Year for Publicity of the Fundamental National Policy of Gender Equality in China.

Responding to observations that there was a low representation of women in decision-making positions, the delegation listed a number of measures that had been introduced to increase the participation of women in high-level decision-making.  Those included: education and publicity campaigns; explicit definition of proportionate representation through data and statistics; special promotion of women with leadership capabilities; training for political participation; and improvement of fair, competitive conditions for civil servants.

Included in China's report were reports completed by the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, where the Convention had taken effect in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 11 August, when it is expected to take up the fifth periodic report of Jamaica.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to take up the combined fifth and sixth periodic report by China on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The three-part report was drafted by China's National Working Committee on Children and Women.

The main part of the report (document CEDAW/C/CHN/5.6 and Adds. 1 and 2) is an update on implementation of the Convention provisions during the four-and-a-half-year period from July 1998 to December 2002.  The first addendum is an account of implementation by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.  The second addendum is a similar account by China's Macao Special Administrative Region.

The main report is divided into two sections, the first containing an overview of major steps taken to eliminate discrimination against women and the second a point-by-point review of implementation of specific articles of the Convention.  The report reiterates the Chinese Government's continued reservation to the first paragraph of article 29 related to resolution of disputes in the interpretation or application of the Convention.

The report describes activities undertaken by the National Working Committee on Children and Women and, the specific tasks assigned to the members that include 24 Government departments and five national non-governmental organizations.  Laws and regulations have been refined in context of emerging issues concerning women's rights and interests.  A 10-year Programme for the Development of Chinese Women was launched in 2001 along with a parallel programme for children that incorporated the spirit of gender equality.  Functional committees have been set up to monitor and monitor implementation of measures.

Further, steps have been taken to address imbalances in economic development that impact women in particular.  The Marriage Law has been amended to reflect developments with regard to property, domestic violence and family relations.  An awareness campaign about gender equality has been launched, and mechanisms to protect women's rights have been put in place, including the training of law-enforcement personnel and the establishment of legal assistance hotlines.  A system of social statistical indicators is being set up and, gender-disaggregated statistics are being compiled and analyzed.  Finally, the promotion of women was one of the social betterment fields to which more than two-thirds of the international aid received by China was allocated.

The first addendum included as part of China's report is the second report submitted on implementation of the Convention in Hong Kong, since the Convention was extended to the region, effective on 1 July 1997.  The report is based on Government consultations with interested parties, including women's groups and, it outlines administrative and legal measures that have been taken since submission of the first report in August 1998.

The report states that Hong Kong is a vibrant city offering ample opportunities for women, many of whom were prominent leaders in their fields, including in governmental position.  The advancement of women could be further enhanced if the root problem of gender prejudice and stereotyping were removed.  Measures toward that end included legislative protections and the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission as an independent statutory body for eliminating sex discrimination and promoting equality of opportunities for men and women.  A Women's Commission has also been set up as an advisory body to the Government on strategy.  Steps have been taken for gender mainstreaming, empowering women and educating the public toward equality.  Services for women have been improved in areas such as employment and promotion of opportunities for women with disabilities.  Finally, a framework for collaboration between the Government and the private sector has been established.

The second addendum included in China's report is the first report on the implementation of the Convention in the Macao Special Administrative Region since extension of the Convention to the region in 1999.  The report covers the period from 20 December 1999 to 31 January 2003 and focuses on implementation of specific articles, with general information on the territory and the population; the political structure and the framework for protecting human rights within the legal system provided in the core document.  A notable update is the reflection of statistical adjustments registered pursuant to the Census carried out in 2001.

Introduction of Report

China's report was presented by Executive Vice Chairperson of the National Working Committee on Women and Children of the State Council, HUANG QINGYI, who was accompanied by the Vice Chairperson of the same Committee, Zhao Shaohua.

Also participating in the work of the Committee were 41 members of China's delegation including: Zhang Liming, Zhang Jing, and Deng Li of the National Working Committee on Women and Children; Xu Hong, Diao Mingsheng, Sun Jin of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Zhang Dan and Guo Jiakun of China's Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Yuan Xiaoyin of the Ministry of Public Security; Su Ronggui of the National Population and Family Planning Commission; Wang Yanbin of the Office of the Supreme Court; Huang Xingsheng of the Ministry of Education; Yin Peizhang of the Ministry of Civil Affairs; Guan Jinghe of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Su Yan of the Ministry of Personnel; Jin Chunzi of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission; Song Li of the Ministry of Health; Diamantino Jose dos Santos, Ip Peng Kin, Zhu Lin, Patricia Albuquerque Ferreira, Noemia Lameiras and Lei Sio Lin from Macao Special Administrative Region of China (SAR); as well as Advisers Huang Shu and Xhang Jianming.

Ms. HUANG of the National Working Committee introduced the report.  She said her country had found the Committee's comments and suggestions valuable upon consideration of the last report in 2003, and had reinforced its efforts on behalf of women in five major areas.

The first area concerned the enactment and amendment of laws, she said.  A law had been passed in 2004 to protect human rights, and in 2005 the law was amended to explicitly provide for the protection of women's rights.  That amendment defined gender equality as a fundamental national policy opposing all forms of discrimination against women.  That indicated China's legislation was evolving from a focus on protection of rights to fighting and punishing discrimination.  Other laws had been amended to reflect the emphasis, including the 2001 Marriage Law that now for the first time in China's history prohibited domestic violence.  The Law on Compulsory Education had also been amended in June 2006 to emphasize that equal rights of girls to education must be guaranteed.

She said governmental mechanisms had been strengthened, with working bodies for women's rights established within the National Programme for the Development of Chinese Women (2001-2010).  Among others, a high-level conference system had been set up, including regular national conferences on women's issues.  Special measures to implement the Programme had been incorporated into overall plans for socio-economic development at all governmental levels.  Financial and physical resources had been pooled to address prominent problems, particularly in the areas of health and education.  Finally, measures had been taken to publicize the Convention in order to create favourable public opinion, including by reflecting its principles in school curricula.  The year 2005, in fact, had been designated Year for Publicity of the Fundamental National Policy of Gender Equality in China.

Moving on to specific recommendations made by the Committee, she said measures had been introduced to increase the participation of women in high-level decision-making.  Among those were education and publicity campaigns, explicit definition of proportionate representation, special promotion of women with leadership capabilities, training for political participation and improvement of fair competitive conditions for civil servants.

Special measures had also been taken to promote women's employment in China's transition towards a market economy, she continued.  Preferential policies for women's re-employment and employment assistance to women had been instituted.  Also, tax exemptions and social insurance subsidies had been made available to employers recruiting laid-off women; free job placement services were offered, and cooperative arrangements had been made between Government labour authorities, trade unions and women's federations.

To combat the phenomenon of human trafficking in women, China had concluded treaties and policing cooperation agreements with numerous countries and was a party to the Joint Project for Preventing and Combating Trafficking of Women and Children in the Greater Mekong Subregion.  Special operations had been carried out to crack down on the phenomenon, and large numbers of victims had been rescued with centres set up for the transit, training and recovery of rescued women.  A national programme of action against human trafficking was in development.

With regard to the high male to female sex ratio at birth in China, she said efforts to reach a balanced ratio at birth by 2015 were ongoing.  Among others, a 2001 Law on Population and Family Planning explicitly prohibited non-medical prenatal sex selection.  Terms of reference had been defined and an accountability system introduced in relevant areas in 2002.  In 2003, a Care for Girls Initiative had been initiated and in 2004, a Policy for Providing Social Support to Rural Families Practicing Family Planning, which provided financial support to rural couples above 60 with one child or with two girls.  In 2005, the Care for Girls Initiative had been nationalized with comprehensive measures introduced to address the high sex ratio at birth problem.

Summarizing the challenges remaining, she noted that the Convention had been made applicable to the Special Regions of Hong Kong and Macao under the guiding principles of "One Country, Two Systems".  In accordance with the high level of autonomy practiced in the Regions, respective reports had been submitted by them on implementation of the Convention.

Presenting another part of the report, SANDRA LEE, Permanent Secretary for Health and Welfare of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) Government, said that the Hong Kong Basic Law guaranteed that all residents shall be equal before the law.  Hong Kong's Bill of Rights also guaranteed that all women and men shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of civil and political rights.  Since reunification in 1997, international human rights treaties applicable to Hong Kong, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, had remained firmly in place, and the Government intended to ensure that the Convention was faithfully implemented in Hong Kong SAR pursuant to the Basic Law and the principle of "One Country, Two Systems".

She said that, the SAR Women's Commission -- a high-level central mechanism to advise and assist the Government on women's issues -- had been set up in 2001.  It was chaired by a non-official, supported by a dedicated secretariat and provided with a budget.  The Government had allocated $16 million for the Commission since 2001.  Members of the Commission were appointed on merits and came from different sectors: women's groups, ethnic minorities, district representatives, social workers, teachers and other professionals.  The Commission had assisted the Government in reviewing five major pieces of legislation, including the Domestic Violence Ordinance and the Crime Ordinance related to marital rape.  The Commission had also worked with the Government on the appointment of women to advisory boards and committees.  The initial target of 25 per cent had been met, and, further efforts would be made to enhance women's participation in the decision-making process.

While still a relatively new concept in Hong Kong, gender mainstreaming was one of the key strategies for women's advancement and gender equality, she continued.  So far, the Commission had worked with the Government to review 19 policy areas of importance to the women's agenda.  Among those, she listed the health care reform and secondary school places allocation.  In the area of education, one notable success of the Commission was an innovative capacity-building mileage programme it had organized with several partners, which benefited over 10,000 women, including the less privileged.  The Commission worked with local women's groups and participated in international events.

Regarding domestic violence, she said that, violent acts were liable to criminal charges under the law and received serious attention from law enforcement agencies.  In addition to seeking help from the criminal justice system, the victims could also seek civil redress from the Domestic Violence Ordinance.  Following the review of that legislation, the Government was now proposing further improvements in extending the scope of coverage to include formal spousal and co-habitation relationship; extending the criteria to include psychological harm; and increasing the duration of the injunction order.  In the current financial year, $170 million had been allocated for counselling, shelters, childcare, clinical psychology, emergency financial support and re-housing services for victims.  Other efforts included two pilot projects convening the Batterer Intervention Programme and strengthened training and coordination for social workers, police officers and related professionals.  Some $4 million had been allocated for early identification of families in need.

Turning to trafficking in women, she said that the number of recorded cases of trafficking was small in Hong Kong -- only two and three suspected cases were recorded in 2004 and 2005, respectively.  Debriefing sex workers from outside Hong Kong revealed that they had entered Hong Kong to practice prostitution of their own volition.  Notwithstanding the small number of trafficking cases, the law enforcement agencies remained vigilant.

Prostitution itself was not a crime in Hong Kong, but, it was a criminal offence to organize and exploit prostitution.  Undercover operations against vice activities were subject to clear rules and procedures.

And finally, on the issue of employment, she said that women in Hong Kong enjoyed the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.  The Employment Ordinance protected the rights of employees, including the entitlement to wages and statutory holidays.  Foreign domestic helpers enjoyed the same rights and benefits as local workers.  They were further protected by a standard employment contract and minimum allowable wage, which stood at $436 per month.  The Sex Discrimination Ordinance prohibited discrimination against female employees on the grounds of sex, pregnancy or marital status.  The Ordinance also ensured equal opportunities for both sexes in employment and equal access to opportunities for promotion, transfer, training, benefits, facilities or services.  The principle of equal pay for work of equal value had been incorporated in Hong Kong's legislation.

Speaking on Macao SAR, JORGE COSTA OLIVEIRA, Director of International Law, Office of Macao SAR, introduced a related addendum to the report, saying that in accordance with the constitutional principle of non-discrimination established in Macao's Basic Law, policies and measures had been adopted in Macao through legislation or via administrative rules and procedures, giving effect to women's rights enshrined in the Convention.  Although the authorities of Macao believed that Macao women benefited from a high level of conformity with the Convention, they were also the first to acknowledge that in several fields, there was room for improvement.

The participation of various sectors of society in the formulation, implementation and review of relevant Government policies was a core feature of the Macao way of life.  In order to deepen such involvement and to create better channels to promote women's rights and interests, a Consultative Commission for Women's Affairs had been established in 2005.  Through the reporting process, Macao further welcomed the scrutiny of its policies and the exchange of opinions during the current session of the Committee.

Interactive Dialogue

The dialogue opened with questions on the Convention's first six articles related to discrimination, policy, guarantee of basic rights and freedoms, special measures, sex roles, stereotyping and prejudice, and practices such as prostitution.

CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, questioned the absence of a definition for discrimination in China's national legislation.  Also, what was the status of the Convention's optional protocol in China?  Special courts and tribunals had been established to guarantee protection of rights at the judicial level.  How were the special courts related to the core judicial system?  What domestic legislation would be implemented to protect the rights of refugees not entitled to guarantees in China, such as Korean women refugees?  Would the 1951 Refugee Convention be extended to Hong Kong?  What was being done about violations of the rights of female migrant workers in Hong Kong and of indigenous women there?

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, also questioned the absence of a definition for discrimination and noted the legislative omission of recourse for discriminatory actions.  How many women judges and magistrates did China have?

SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, noted that indicators showed marked improvement in China since its last report in the area of human rights and in its economic development, the economic growth not necessarily impacting on women, and a gross disparity in levels of poverty between urban and rural populations.  What was being done about sex selectivity and why were women so undervalued?  Defining the term "State secret" would make more information about China available to international analysts and experts on women's issues.

China's delegation conceded China's legislation did not have a definition of discrimination, in part, they said, because accession to treaties meant China would abide by the treaty, and it became part of the resources for Chinese law until ratification introduced a different level of responsibility.  There was no difference between China's laws and the Convention, and the need for an explicit definition would be considered in the future.  The optional protocol was under study as well.

Further, the delegation said China attached the greatest importance to the protection of refugees, as the provision of asylum to refugees contributing toward peace and stability in the region.  Some illegal aliens had entered from the Democratic Republic of Korea, and some travelled back and forth across the border, which meant they weren't refugees, but, were using China as a transit point for economic purposes.  Legislation on refugees was in the process of being formulated.  Discussions were under way with the Hong Kong SAR.  Chinese law had very specific definitions of "State secret".

The special courts or tribunals were part of evolving legal reform in China.  There was a distinction between the two, but, the purpose of both was to protect the rights and interests of women.  They were established by courts at all judicial levels, and judges acted as presidents.  There were approximately 3,000 of those auxiliary legal avenues of justice, and legal assistance was provided in accessing them.  All told, there were about 43,700 female judges in China -- or about 30 per cent of all judges.  China's Supreme Court had 100 female judges.  Training activities in the area of women's rights were carried out with law enforcement officials, including with judges through workshops and seminars.

The representatives of China said that, historical and geographic reasons accounted for the disproportion in wealth and poverty between rural and urban areas of the country.  The population was one-fifth of the world population.  The disparity had been closely studied since the Democratic People's Republic of China was founded in October 1949.  Major new policies had been undertaken in the past years in line with the central Government's plan.  One was to place an emphasis on establishing a harmonious society with equality between men and women.  The implication was that special attention would be placed on development of rural areas.

Another core concern of the central Government was that, China's development should be sustainable and science-based with balanced development between urban and rural areas, but also, among the widely disparate regions within China's vast territory.  Again, special attention needed to be paid to those who needed more help.  The poorer western areas of China would be developed along with the more prosperous east, and, that would entail special measures such as incentives to work there, along with material and financial support to encourage participation in the effort.  A railroad, for example, would be developed.

Finally, they said that since the central Government was committed to developing the rural areas in line with the fundamental premise that development would spread wealth, concrete measures were being put in place to speed the resolution of the disparities.  One of those was to place an emphasis on broadening the accessibility of education.  Education was now compulsory for nine years, and students were exempt from fees.  Special training mechanisms had been developed for women, along with special work programmes such as microcredit schemes.

Regarding Hong Kong, a member of the delegation said that, the Convention on the status of refugees did not apply to the Hong Kong SAR, and there were no plans for extending the provisions of that instrument to it.  However, assistance was provided, on a case-by-case basis, to torture claimants and asylum seekers, according to their personal circumstances.  Recently, a court had determined that the overall package of assistance was sufficient to meet the standards of the Convention on civil and political rights, and relevant provisions of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

On foreign domestic help, another country representative said that the authorities took the protection of their rights seriously.  An effective mechanism was in place to seek redress, if their statutory rights were infringed.  In cases of maltreatment or abuse by employers, the workers could terminate the contract without notice or payment, and could lodge a complaint with the Labour Department or report the case to the police.  Some 2,000 complaints from foreign domestic helpers had been filed in Hong Kong in 2005 -- that meant that people did come forward, if they had complaints.  The complaints were promptly investigated.

As the Committee continued its consideration of the situation of women in China, an expert noted that the report did not contain sufficient information regarding special temporary measures for the advancement of women.  The introduction of such measures was an obligation under the Convention.  Among other things, the report mentioned that "a certain number" of posts had been reserved for women, and she wanted to receive more precise information in that regard.  She also wanted to know what institutions were responsible for introducing and implementing special temporary measures in China.

A member of the Committee also wanted to receive further information regarding the country's efforts to combat negative sexual stereotypes.  That was particularly important in the culture where women were traditionally considered to be inferior to men.  Certain details on legislative measures were described in the report, including the prosecution of the media for negative portrayal of women.  While that was a positive development, it was not enough to prohibit such behaviour -- it was also important to use the media to promote positive images of women.

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, said that the basic question for China related to the change of traditional perceptions of women and men.  Emphasizing the need to overcome the tradition of devaluing women, she said that, now that China was launching a new policy of socio-economic development, it seemed useful to link such efforts to the system of social welfare.  Under the one-child policy, it was important to give economic security to people as they aged.  Unless the system was altered, traditional preference for boy-children would not change.  She also had questions about the practice, under which families migrating from rural areas to the cities often tended to take a boy along, leaving girls to take care of the older people remaining behind.

Questions were also posed regarding China's measures to combat violence against women, as well as Macao's efforts to stop such crimes as rape, sexual coercion and domestic violence.  On the issue of trafficking in women, an expert expressed appreciation for the Government's efforts to stop that crime, but expressed concern about incidence of internal trafficking and the fact that prostitutes, excluding perpetrators of that offence, could be detained.

As members of the delegation addressed those issues, within their respective areas of expertise, a speaker said that the Government attached great importance to measures to promote women's participation in political life.  Specific provisions to promote women's participation at all levels were in place.  All Government structures included female personnel, and women were given priority in cases when other qualifications were equal.  The Government also emphasized that certain posts should be reserved for women.  The Election Law had clear provisions that there should be an appropriate number of women representatives in elected positions, and, that the ratio should increase with time.  In fact, since the fifth session of the National People's Congress, the number of women in that structure had stabilized at around 20 per cent.

A speaker said that over the past years, the State had intensified its support for girls' education.  In 22 provinces, 30 million families had been provided with free textbooks, and 14.4 million students were receiving free tuition.  At the end of 2005, the State Council had decided to gradually eliminate tuition and other miscellaneous fees in rural areas.  Scholarships and subsidies were also provided to poor families.

Responding to a question on temporary special measures, a country representative said that the Government was making efforts to publicize, implement and execute the spirit and contents of the Convention.  The report contained a detailed explanation of the country's women's development programme for 2001-2010, especially with regard to its three principles and four features.  The programme addressed the need to coordinate the efforts, introduce various laws and regulations concerning protection of women, and reduce the disparity between the rural and urban areas.  Women's interests were being integrated in the general development programme of the country.  Plans were being elaborated for the advancement of women.  One of the approaches was to emphasize the Government's strong role in the promotion of women and allocate sufficient resources for women's programmes.

The Chinese Government was taking forceful measures against negative sexual stereotypes, she continued.  First of all, there were legal guarantees of equality, which formed the basis of the Government's policy.  For the first time now, there were explicit provisions for the responsibilities of the media.  A series of documents had recently been introduced on the supervision of the content of the Internet.  In 2004, measures had been taken throughout the country to regulate the work of the Internet cafes.  Attention was also being paid to improve the education of the public.  For example, a family show had been launched by one of the TV networks for the rural population, which promoted the image of a harmonious family.

It was also important to empower women to allow them to take a more prominent role in society, she said.  In recent years, the Government had implemented policies to foster female entrepreneurs and provide tax incentives for women.  Women were being promoted to higher positions.  On-the-job training was being provided to enhance their promotion potential.  In rural areas, training was also being offered through a so called "sunshine project".  Some 21,000 rural schools for women were spread throughout the country.

Regarding the one-child policy as related to social insurance, the delegation said that, the stereotype persisted that children in China were a necessity for providing social security for families.  The social security system that had been put in place in China was expanding protections to those previously under-protected, including women, the elderly and those in rural areas.  With regard to the high male to female sex ratio at birth, the priority in awarding the social security protection was given to families with daughters.

On domestic violence, the delegation said that as of July 2006, 26 regions had elaborated laws prohibiting domestic violence to supplement national anti-domestic violence legislation.  The necessity of further elaborating laws was being studied.  Data was being collected and analyzed in line with the policy that countering domestic violence was a priority.  Forty per cent of men had admitted to committing violent actions against their partners.  Prosecutors were developing and taking special measures to counter the problem at the legal level, such as by assembling women prosecutorial teams in some districts.  Shelters were being set up to protect and assist the victims of domestic violence.

Turning to the question of values, the delegation said China's long history was the basis for both advantages and some backward concepts that needed to be abandoned.  Women had been undervalued in the past, but, the People's Republic, since 1949, had given high priority to developing and amending laws to advance the equality of all China's people.  Women were encouraged to be self-reliant and to take advantage of measures taken by the Government to promote their achievement of equality.

Members of the delegation also addressed the issue of a review of services to the victims of violence in Hong Kong, where efforts were being made to ensure privacy.  Various initiatives had been undertaken to strengthen the services to families in crisis, including those suffering from domestic violence.  A number of family and child protective services units had been expanded to further enhance efficiency.  Those were specialized units providing one-stop and integrated services to victims.  Also, additional social workers had been provided for the existing shelters for battered women.

On the efforts to eradicate sexual stereotypes and improve the education system in Macao, a speaker said that a reform of the basic curriculum and teaching materials had taken place in the Macao SAR, taking into account the need to fully incorporate the principle of equality between men and women.  Sexual health education, as well as health education had been included in the curricula at different levels.  At the elementary-school level, classes on science, moral character and social studies were being introduced.  At the middle-school level, classes on biology, physical education and health included such major topics as human anatomy and physiology, hygiene, nutrition and health.

Regarding the rates of crime in Macao, a speaker said that according to the statistical data, the number of complaints of crimes against sexual liberty seemed to be growing at a faster pace than crimes against physical integrity.  However, from 1999 to 2002, there had also been a growth of the number of crimes against physical integrity.  Also, the number of cases coming to the courts and resulting in convictions differed from the initial number of complaints.  The Government had every intention of fighting all kinds of crime equally.  It was also looking into the problem to identify its roots.  Domestic violence was a crime under Macao's laws.  A preventive and proactive approach was being taken by the Government, which was making efforts to popularize the law and raise public awareness.  A family action unit had been recently created in the Macao SAR.

Women's Participation in Public Life

As the Committee turned to the question of women's participation in public life, several experts emphasized the importance of measures taken by the Chinese Government, particularly in view of the country's significance as one of the world's leading political powers, which had some 650 million women.  A permanent member of the Security Council, the country played an important role and was respected around the world.  China had all the possibilities to apply the Convention, which it had ratified in 1983, an expert said, and many of its programmes looked impressive.

At the same time, several members of the Committee noted that women were still underrepresented at both central and local levels of Government in China, wondering about the lack of progress in that respect.  At the highest level, the participation of Chinese women was also not sufficient.

Returning to the issue of special temporary measures, an expert said that, the answers provided by the delegation this morning were not clear.  She appreciated the mention of a series of actions that the country called special measures to enhance empowerment of women.  However, the Electoral Law and the Law on Protection of Women's Rights referred to an "appropriate number of women".  Being quite vague, that was more of a principle than a special measure.  Saying that it was important to establish concrete numbers, she wanted to know what the Government understood as "appropriate", and commented that indirect discrimination could actually be involved in this case.  Why didn't the law speak about "an appropriate number" of men?  She also wanted to know: who defined the specific proportion of women in Government at all other levels, and what was it?

Responding to those concerns, a country representative said that China was an agricultural country, and the production levels were still low in rural areas, which still relied mainly on physical labour.  There was a difference between men and women, as far as physical labour was concerned.  That had determined the male status in the village and inside the family.  Traditionally, women had a lower status in society.  Competitive elections usually resulted in smaller women's representation, especially in leadership positions.  The country wanted to respect the fairness of the elections.

Under the provisions of the current elections law, "an appropriate number" of women should be elected to village committees.  However, amendments were being prepared, according to which there should be at least one woman representative there.  Another member of the delegation said that, statistical data indicated that at the end of 2005, there were about 50 million "women cadres" in public service.  There had been a significant increase over recent years.

Articles on Education, Work

The next round of questions was related to education and the position of ethnic groups in China, along with workplace conditions and availability of access to services.  Experts asked for an explanation of the absence of legislation on sexual harassment in the Hong Kong SAR and other work-related inequalities such as wage gaps and the treatment of women during layoffs.  What was being done about women being re-employed in the informal sector with low wages and no social benefits?  What was being done for rural women, among whom suicide seemed to be a problem?  How did economic development, such as the introduction of alternative fuels and solar power systems, affect the earning power of women?

Repeating the importance of ensuring the rights to education and training of girls, particularly in the western and remote regions, the delegation said financial assistance had been devoted to promoting the conditions that made it possible for girls to continue in school.  Enrolment was up, and the dropout rate was down as a result, including in ethnic areas where special measures had been instituted.

Speaking on work conditions, the delegation said China had signed the International Labour Organization Convention on equal work for equal pay and, China also emphasized "equal value".  Economic restructuring did not just affect women, but all workers.  The Government provided retraining and re-employment assistance, and subsidies were provided to women over age 40.

The law on protecting women's rights provided a number of remedies in cases of sexual harassment, the delegation continued, including access to organizations for registering complaints.  With regard to Macao SAR, the law regulating the workplace was elaborated when questions of harassment were not yet covered by legislation, whether sexually related or in other contexts, such as collections.

The delegation said the Government approached the challenges of health and employment together, since people with health problems were unable to work.  Women in rural areas were also given training in staying healthy both physically and psychologically.  For example, they were informed about toxic materials in the environment and given the tools to avoid them.  Likewise, emotional networks and counselling programmes were being developed.

The Chinese Government had set a goal of effectively halting the trend of higher ratios of male births and normalizing the gender ratios of all newborns by the year 2010.  To enhance registration of newborn girls, registration procedures had been improved and, efforts were being made to establish a better registration network.  As of 1 January 2006, a new certificate system had been introduced, which would improve registration and reduce abandonment.  Measures were being taken to verify the accuracy of information on newborns.  The latest census had found that about 80,000 newborns had not been registered.  The law provided for punishment for those responsible for missing registrations.  After the situation had been resolved, those children enjoyed the same rights as other children.

Family Life, Marriage Rights

As the Committee turned to the family-related issues, Ms. SHIN thanked the Government for the new land-related law, which sought to change some discriminatory practices -- married women were now entitled to land.  However -- in Chinese tradition -- in rural areas it was usually the woman who went to the husband's home or village after marriage.  Both men and women should be free to choose their domicile and family position.  She hoped the custom would be changed, so that women had the same rights in terms of choosing where to live, and had the same rights to land as men.  If the couple agreed, man should be able to move to a wife's house.  That would be a more flexible situation.

She also referred to the situation of women who found themselves in an almost slavery situation in China, as a result of trafficking in North Korean women along the border between the two countries.  Many were sold into marriage with Chinese men.  According to this morning's responses from the delegation, those women were not considered refugees.  Under the international refugee convention, it was up to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) to decide whether those women, whom the Government considered illegal aliens, could be characterized as refugees.  The Government should give UNHCR access to the border area to assess the situation.

Members of the delegation replied that, if trafficking was involved, the Government would certainly go by international law and mete out the punishment to the offenders.  However, if the illegal aliens were involved, that should not be something that UNHCR should deal with.  In that case, UNHCR had only a supplementary role.

It was said that according to the Refugee Convention, those who went to other countries for economic reasons were not considered refugees.  As a State party to the Convention, China had the right to determine who was a refugee and who was not.  That decision was not up to UNHCR.  China had always enjoyed a very good cooperative relationship with UNHCR.  In March this year, the High Commissioner had visited China.  Members of the Commission had also visited the border area to investigate.

In a round of follow-up questions, CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, addressed the country's answer on the lack of definition of discrimination against women in Chinese legislation.  According to that answer, since the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was part of China's law, there was no need to repeat its provisions in other legislation.  That was on the condition that the Convention was applicable in China.  However, there was no reference to the women's convention in the law on the protection of women.  In its application, everyone using that law should be aware of the Convention.  It would be important to have a definition that clearly determined the scope of that legislation.

An expert also noted that in its preparation of the report, Macao had not sought opinions of women's organizations and societies.  It was important to receive their feedback, and she recommended that Macao circulate its report among those organizations before presenting it to the Committee.

Responding to that comment, a member of the delegation said that Macao was really interested in consulting with women's organizations and non-governmental organizations.  However, sending out hundreds of letters made the procedure for consultation "too heavy".  For that reason, Macao SAR usually placed the final draft on the Government website and invited opinions.  However, in this case, that action got delayed.  The authorities would consider ways of improving the situation in the future.

Responding to a question on violence against women in Hong Kong SAR, a member of the delegation said that a comprehensive policy had been adopted on the matter.  The Government took all cases very seriously, and pressed charges when there was sufficient evidence.  Training was being provided for law enforcement personnel and judges.  There was also a central domestic violence database, and an alarm was automatically generated in cases of recurrent incidents.

The head of the delegation, in her concluding remarks, said that in the course of the constructive dialogue today, the members of the Committee had not only acknowledged China's efforts, but, had come up with an array of constructive comments and recommendations.  The Government paid great attention to the implementation of the Convention.  Notwithstanding significant results achieved in the implementation of the Convention, China knew only too well, as a developing country with a large population, that much remained to be done.  She had every confidence that through concerted efforts, as well as intensified cooperation with the international community, the country would be able to overcome the remaining difficulties and steadily advance the cause of gender quality in China.  The Government would carefully study upcoming concluding comments and, looked forward to further cooperation with the Committee.

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