Time for "hukou" system reform in China: experts   2010-02-08 16:27:04 FeedbackPrintRSS

BEIJING, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- A newly issued policy document has aroused a fresh round of discussions on China's household registration system, which, experts say, should be changed to bridge the urban-rural gap.

The policy paper on rural problems, issued a week ago by the central committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, promised more efforts for rural-urban integration and called for, among other initiatives, deepening reform of the household registration, or hukou, system.

More efforts were needed to implement the policy to relax the hukou system so to allow more rural people, mainly migrant workers, to settle in small and medium-sized towns and cities and grant them the same rights as those enjoyed by city dwellers, said the document.

"This is the first time that the hukou system reform has been written into the policy document explicitly as a core emphasis," said Zheng Fengtian, vice dean with the Agriculture and Country Development of Renmin University of China.

Initiated in the 1950s, the hukou system categorizes Chinese citizens into urbanites and non-urbanites and has prevented rural residents from migrating freely to cities.

China has 150 million migrant workers, 60 percent of whom are youngsters born in the 1980s and 1990s, said Chen Xiwen, director of the central leading group on rural work, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua earlier last week.

The dilemma facing many migrant workers was that they were neither willing to return to the countryside nor able to settle in the cities, and the case was more obvious for the young migrant workers who had no knowledge of farming and wanted to live an urban life, he said.

Under the current hukou system, the majority of migrant workers and their families were not eligible for health insurance, education and other services in the cities, said Du Zhixiong, a researcher with the Rural Development Institute at the China Academy of Social Sciences.

If they could enjoy the same public services and social welfare as urbanites did, many of the migrant workers' worries would be wiped away and their livelihood would be improved, Du said.

"It is high time for the hukou system to be relaxed since China's social and economic structures have changed greatly during the last 50 years," said Du.

Experts see reforms happening as the central government has indicated it is cognizant of the issues and has recently been paying a great deal of attention to the plight of migrant worker. They believed that the new document would encourage local governments to overhaul the system.

Agricultural Minister Han Changfu said in a published article last week, there was some discontent among young migrant workers who wanted equal access to jobs and social services enjoyed by city dwellers.

He saw small and medium-sized cities as a good choice for migrant workers to settle in, where great potential still existed for urban expansion and living costs did not dwarf migrant workers' income levels.

Despite support for changes to the Hukou system, experts also called for prudence in carrying out the reform.

The reform involved a wide range of issues and would not bear fruits in absence of enough jobs and improved social security net, Zheng said.

Editor: Li Xianzhi
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