Full Text: Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China

White Paper
The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China published a white paper titled "Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China" on Wednesday.

China SCIOUpdated: December 13, 2018

IV. Ensuring the Rights of Special Groups

Over the 40 years since reform and opening up was introduced in 1978, China has improved various mechanisms for ensuring its citizens’ rights, adopting targeted measures to create opportunities for special groups in pursuit of self-development and life goals. The legitimate rights of ethnic minority groups, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled are protected.

1. Rights of Ethnic Minority Groups

The right of ethnic minority groups in administering state affairs is effectively guaranteed. The ethnic autonomous regions enjoy the right of autonomy in extensive areas as prescribed by law, including autonomy in the fields of politics, the economy, education, science and technology, culture, and health. All 55 minority groups have deputies and members at the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The 13th NPC has 438 deputies from ethnic minority groups, accounting for 14.7 percent of the total number of deputies. The standing committees of people’s congresses in all 155 ethnic autonomous areas have citizens from the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy acting as director or deputy director. The chairpersons of autonomous regions, governors of autonomous prefectures, and heads of autonomous counties and banners are all citizens from the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy of the said areas. In the 11th People’s Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region, the director and half of the deputy directors of the standing committee, and two-thirds of the deputies, are from the Tibetan or other ethnic minority groups.

The economy of ethnic minority areas has experienced rapid growth. The total GDP of the five autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia and Xinjiang, and the three provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Qinghai has grown from RMB32.4 billion in 1978 to RMB8.49 trillion in 2017. The impoverished population in these regions has dropped from 50.4 million in 2010 to 10.32 million in 2017, with 40.08 million people shaking off poverty and the incidence of poverty reduced from 34.5 to 6.9 percent. From 2012 to 2017 the central government allocated RMB24.5 billion from the state poverty alleviation fund to support the development of ethnic minority groups. With the release of the Program for Developing Ethnic Minority Areas and Ethnic Groups with Small Populations During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period and the Program for Revitalizing Border Areas and Enriching the People During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, China aims to achieve a big stride in social and economic development in these areas.

Education in ethnic minority areas has developed rapidly. China has adopted a series of measures to promote educational equality and ensure ethnic minorities’ right to education. These measures include: opening schools for students from ethnic minority groups, using both Putonghua (standard Chinese) and ethnic languages in school education, giving preferential treatment to students from ethnic minority groups when they take exams to enter higher levels of education, and running residential schools in farming and pastoral areas. In Tibet Autonomous Region, students enjoy free board and lodging and are exempt from study costs from preschool to senior high school – a total of 15 years. In south Xinjiang, students also enjoy 15 years of zero-cost education, and those in rural areas are provided with free three-year preschool education both in Putonghua and ethnic languages. Middle and high school students from Tibet and Xinjiang can attend special classes at schools in more developed areas of the country. High school graduates from ethnic groups can attend preparatory courses or special classes at colleges and universities, and university graduates from ethnic groups can apply for a national high-level professional development program which trains and sends them to work in designated places. All this has ensured that students from ethnic minority groups have access to quality education.

The right to use and develop the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities is respected and fully protected. In China, with the exception of the Hui and Manchu peoples who generally use Han Chinese, the other 53 ethnic minorities have their own spoken languages, and 22 groups use a total of 27 written systems. The Chinese government protects the legitimate use of the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in the areas of administration and judicature, press and publishing, radio, film and television, and culture and education. The state has established a database for the endangered languages of China’s ethnic minority groups, and initiated the Program for Protecting China’s Language Resources. Public cultural services in ethnic minority areas have been further improved. By 2017 there were 195 radio and 263 television stations in China’s ethnic autonomous areas broadcasting in 14 and 10 ethnic minority languages. The state provides bilingual education in ethnic minority areas, basically forming a bilingual education system from preschool to higher education. By 2017 more than 12,000 primary and secondary schools catering to ethnic minority students in China give courses in both Putonghua and minority languages, with 210,000 teachers teaching such courses to 3.2 million students.

Cultural heritage and relics in ethnic minority areas are protected. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the preservation and development of ethnic minority cultures. It has promulgated laws, established government bodies, and increased spending to develop the cultures of ethnic minority groups. Of all China’s cultural items included in the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, 14 are from ethnic minorities. At national level, 492 (36 percent) of the first 1,372 cultural items included in China’s intangible cultural heritage list are from ethnic minorities. Of the 3,068 representative trustees of China’s intangible cultural heritage, 862 (28 percent) are from ethnic minority groups. China has set up 21 state-level cultural preservation experimental areas, 11 of which are located in ethnic minority areas. Twenty-five provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government have institutions that catalogue and study ancient classics and recordings of ethnic minorities. The central and local governments have funded the conservation and renovation of many historical and cultural sites, including the Gaochang Ancient City Ruins, Beiting Ancient City Site, and Kashi’s Id Kah Mosque. More than 3,000 precious cultural relics have been conserved and renovated. Traditional Tibetan medicine, the Epic of King Gesar, traditional songs and dances, handicrafts, and other important items of intangible cultural heritage have been protected.

Ethnic minority groups’ right to freedom of religious belief has been fully protected. Religious beliefs and normal religious activities are protected by law. At the moment Tibet Autonomous Region has 1,778 venues for practicing Tibetan Buddhism, and some 46,000 resident monks and nuns. The Living Buddha reincarnation is a succession system unique to Tibetan Buddhism, and is respected by the state and governments at different levels of the autonomous region, the state having issued the Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet now has 358 Living Buddhas, more than 60 of whom have been confirmed through historical conventions and traditional religious rituals.

The system whereby Tibetan Buddhist monks study sutras has been improved. By 2017 a total of 84 monks from Tibet had received senior academic titles in Lhasa and 168 in Beijing. China has published translations of the religious classics of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and other religions in multiple languages to satisfy normal religious needs. More than 1.76 million copies of the Quran and Selections from Al-Sahih Muhammad Ibn-Ismail al-Bukhari have been distributed. The Tibetan Buddhist canons have been revised and published, and 1,490 copies of the canon Kangyur have been given to monasteries for monks, nuns and religious persons to study. To improve the self-management capacity of religious groups, the state offers training sessions to clerics on interpreting scriptures, and to persons who manage venues for religious activities. Since 2011 the National Religious Affairs Administration has organized over a dozen training sessions on interpreting Islamic scripture, and trained several hundred clerics from Xinjiang. The central government supports the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in expanding its campus, improving teaching conditions, and enrolling more students.

2. Rights of Women, Children and the Elderly

Women’s rights to equal participation in the administration of public affairs and socioeconomic development are protected. China has taken numerous solid measures to implement the basic state policy of gender equality, and amended the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests. The proportion of female officials at each level of officialdom has increased steadily, and the number of female officials in Party and government organs has grown from 422,000 at the beginning of reform and opening up to 1.9 million in 2017, accounting for 26.5 percent of all officials. Women participate fully in the administration and discussion of state affairs. The 13th NPC has 742 female deputies (24.9 percent), and the 13th CPPCC National Committee now has 442 female members (20.5 percent). At the 2018 sessions of the provincial people’s congresses and political consultative conferences, women made up 27.33 percent and 25.69 percent of all deputies and members.

The state has strengthened economic empowerment for women, helping them to start businesses and seek employment. In 2016, women employed nationwide accounted for 43.1 percent of the total employed population. To engage women in employment and entrepreneurship, China has introduced the small-sum guaranteed loan with financial discount. By June 2018, a total of RMB359 billion had been issued in guaranteed loans to 6.34 million women to start businesses, and the government had allocated RMB39 billion for interest discount. By September 2017, 1.37 million collective contracts for protecting female workers’ rights and interests had been signed nationwide, covering almost 80 million female workers in 3.15 million enterprises. In the 592 poorest counties which are the main targets of national poverty alleviation and development work, the incidence of poverty of the female population decreased from 20.3 percent in 2005 to 9.8 percent in 2010.

Health services for women and children have improved. China has strengthened healthcare programs for women and children to safeguard their right to health. It has improved the distribution of health resources, and increased spending on maternal and child healthcare programs in rural, border and remote areas. From 2012 to 2016 about 48 million rural women received state subsidies for delivery of their babies in official institutions. In 2017 the state provided free checkups for 11.73 million rural couples planning for pregnancy, covering 91.7 percent of the target population. In June 2009 the government launched a program of free cervical and breast cancer checkups for rural women, providing free cervical cancer checkups for 70 million and free breast cancer checkups for 10 million by 2017. Between1991 and 2017 the mortality rate of children under five decreased from 61 per thousand to 9.1. In 2016 the underweight rate for children under five decreased to 1.49 percent. The corresponding rates for growth retardation and incidence of anemia were 1.15 percent and 4.79 percent. The government has initiated a program to provide safe water storage for people, especially women, in the western parts of China, so that they have reliable sources of drinking water. By 2017, a total of 3.04 million people had received help from the program and had access to safe drinking water.

Protection and assistance for women and children have been enhanced. China has taken judicial action against domestic violence at the grassroots level. It has experimented with an adjudication system of personal security protection against domestic violence, and courts conducting this pilot program have expanded from 5 provinces in 2008 to14 in 2015. In 2015 China promulgated the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which has played an important role in ensuring the legitimate rights of family members including women, and maintaining equal and harmonious family relations. Amendment IX to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China represents a major step forward in protecting women and children’s rights and interests; it specifies harsher punishments for the crimes of raping girls under the age of 14 and abducting and trafficking women and children.

To ensure the physical and psychological health of minors and to protect their legitimate rights and interests, China has promulgated the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, both amended in 2012. In 2009 the Ministry of Public Security developed the world’s first DNA database for finding abducted children, having helped 5,500 children reunite with their families to date. On the “Tuan Yuan” (Reunion) online platform initiated in 2016, a total of 3,419 items on missing children had been posted by September 2018, which had helped recover 3,367 children. In 2017 China had 663 child adoption and assistance institutions with 103,000 beds, accommodating 59,000 persons. By 2017 some 780,000 rural children left at home by their migrant worker parents had been provided with effective guardianship, 180,000 previously unregistered left-at-home rural children had been registered, and 17,000 had been returned to school.

The mechanism for protecting the rights and interests of the elderly has improved. In 2017 some 240 million Chinese were aged 60 or above, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total population. Since 2012 China has amended the Law on Protecting the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, and released more than 70 policy papers, such as the Decisions on Accelerating the Development of the Old-Age Service Industry and the Program for Developing China’s Old-Age Services and System Building During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period, forming a legal and policy framework for old-age care.

Before reform and opening up China’s elderly were mainly cared for in nursing homes. Now more of them receive home care and community services, but can still choose nursing homes or facilities with medical care services. New models of old-age care such as “mutual support” in rural areas are also expanding. By 2017 China had 155,000 institutions with 7.45 million beds to provide old-age services, including nursing homes, community-based old-age service facilities, and “mutual support” facilities – a stark contrast with just 8,000 nursing homes in 1978. The state has strengthened social assistance and welfare for the elderly, providing subsistence allowances to 17.8 million elderly persons in need and supporting 4.1 million elderly persons in extreme poverty with government funding. By 2017 the allowances for impoverished senior citizens over the specified age had covered all provinces, which had also released preferential policies for the elderly. To enrich the cultural life of the elderly, there are now 49,000 schools for the elderly with more than 7 million students, and 350,000 activity centers.

3. Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The laws ensuring the rights and interests of persons with disabilities have been improved, and the government has placed work in relation to the disabled high on its agenda. As society promotes equality, participation and sharing of benefits for the disabled, they have fared better in terms of quality of life, development, and participation in social affairs.

The mechanism for ensuring the rights and interests of the disabled has improved. China has formulated a system of laws to ensure disabled persons’ rights, including the Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons. By April 2018 the state had promulgated more than 80 laws and 50 administrative regulations directly relating to the protection of the rights and interests of the disabled. Having included the development of disabled persons in the national development strategy, China has released seven five-year plans for the development of the disabled, including overall plans for ensuring their rights. China has also established a Disability Prevention Day. All levels of government have improved their work mechanisms in matters related to the disabled, coordinating efforts for their wellbeing. By 2017 China had 2,600 legal assistance centers and 2,500 legal assistance windows for the disabled, as well as 1,746 legal assistance stations funded by disabled persons’ associations at various levels. The government has significantly increased spending on the disabled. In 2017 the central budgetary investment grew by 458 percent compared to the previous five-year period, establishing 3,822 service facilities for the disabled.

The disabled persons’ right to social security is ensured. China has established a subsidy system for the living expenses of disabled persons in need and to pay the nursing costs of persons with severe disabilities, benefitting 21 million disabled persons. By 2017 a total of 26.15 million disabled persons were covered in old-age insurance schemes in both urban and rural areas, with 10.42 million receiving old-age pensions. Of the 5.47 million severely disabled people under the age of 60 who took part in such schemes, 5.29 million had received insurance subsidies from the government, which paid for 96.8 percent of their premiums. Impoverished disabled persons subscribing to basic medical insurance pay a reduced premium, and kinesitherapy and 28 other medical rehabilitation programs are now covered by basic medical insurance.

The system for ensuring disabled persons’ right to rehabilitation has improved. China has introduced programs on preventing disabilities and implemented targeted rehabilitation programs, so that every disabled person has access to rehabilitation services. The state has issued the Regulations on the Prevention of Disabilities and Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons, building rehabilitation centers with standard practices and operating models, and developing professionals capable of delivering consistent quality services. By 2017 there were 833 rehabilitation facilities at the provincial, city and county levels nationwide, and 8,334 professional rehabilitation services for the disabled, with a team of 246,000 professionals. More than 2,000 counties (cities, districts) provided community rehabilitation services. A mechanism for providing rehabilitation services to disabled children has been established. Eight provinces and municipalities now provide subsidies to the disabled when they buy assistance devices, lightening the economic burden of families with disabled members. The state has improved the work-related injury rehabilitation system, and increased compensation for disabilities caused by work-related injuries. In 2017 65.6 percent of disabled persons were covered by rehabilitation services.

Disabled persons’ right to education is better protected. China ensures that the disabled enjoy equal right to education. The government has promulgated and revised the Regulations on Education for the Disabled, including their education in China’s Middle- and Long-Term Education Reform and Development Program 2010-2020 and the Program for Equitable Access to Basic Public Services During the 13th Five-Year Plan Period. China has twice implemented the Special Education Promotion Plan, striving to develop special education and inclusive education to increase the level of education for the disabled. 

The state has established a funding system for disabled students from kindergarten to higher education. In autumn 2016 China began to provide 12-year free education from primary to senior high school for disabled students from poor families. By 2016 over 90 percent of children with impaired eyesight, hearing or mental disability had received compulsory education, and children with other types of disability also had increased access to education. The state encourages special education schools to run preschool courses or kindergartens, and has provided funding for disabled children receiving preschool education. In 2017 China had 112 senior high classes (departments) in special education, with 8,466 students on campus, and 132 secondary vocational schools (classes) for the disabled, with 12,968 students. 1,845 disabled persons studied at colleges of special education. China strives to develop inclusive education. In 2017 more than 300,000 disabled students – over 50 percent of all disabled students receiving compulsory education – studied at regular schools during the compulsory education phase, and 10,818 disabled persons were enrolled at regular institutions of higher learning.

Disabled persons’ cultural rights are ensured. Cultural services for the disabled have been included in the nation’s public cultural services system. By 2017 China’s provincial- and prefecture-level television stations had run 285 programs employing sign language. Broadcasting stations had aired 223 radio programs specially for the disabled, and public libraries at the provincial, prefecture and county levels had set up 959 reading rooms with books in Braille and audio books, providing some 25,000 seats. Each year, more than 2 million disabled persons take part in cultural weeks and enjoy charity performances and exhibitions nationwide. To develop disabled arts, the state holds a national disabled arts variety show every four years, with some 100,000 disabled persons attending each time. Art troupes of the disabled have grown quickly to 281 in number, and nearly 300,000 disabled persons work in the culture and arts industry. The government provides cultural services to impoverished disabled persons, and to their families and communities. Through the “digital reading” promotion program for visually impaired persons and many other programs, China offers quality cultural products and services to its disabled population.

Disabled persons’ right to employment is effectively guaranteed. The basic right of disabled persons to employment is strictly protected by law. In China, the provincial, city and county governments have established offices in service of disabled persons seeking employment. By 2017 there were nearly 3,000 such offices with a staff of 15,000. China has initiated an occupational skills promotion program for the disabled, setting up 500 state-level and 350 provincial-level vocational training bases. Since 2013 the Chinese government has kept files on employment and training for 18 million disabled persons, and each year some 333,000 disabled persons enter the workforce. By 2017 more than 9.42 million registered disabled persons were working in urban and rural areas.

More barrier-free facilities and assistance devices have been provided. China has released the Regulations on the Building of Barrier-Free Environments, with provisions on the building of barrier-free facilities, information exchange, and community services, in an effort to ensure that disabled persons can participate equally in social life. By 2017 a total of 451 laws, regulations and normative documents on the construction and management of barrier-free facilities had been issued at the provincial, prefecture and county levels. Between 2016 and 2017 the government helped 1.83 million families with disabled members renovate their homes with barrier-free facilities. China is moving faster to provide barrier-free information services. By January 2018 more than 500 government organs had set up barrier-free public service information platforms, and more than 30,000 websites on government affairs and public services are barrier-free. A total of 9,053 fitness facilities for the disabled have been established, and 222,000 families with severely disabled members have received rehabilitation and fitness services. In 2017 2.44 million disabled persons were provided with tactile sticks, visual aids, artificial limbs and other assistance devices. The disabled persons’ right to drive motor vehicles is protected. Some 160,000 disabled persons who have obtained their drivers’ licenses can now travel and take part in various activities more freely.

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