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Migrants May Register for Equal Rights
The government will reform its household registration system soon, enabling migrants residing in small and medium-sized cities to become local residents.

Chen Hao, a Ministry of Public Security official, said the move is among the government's upcoming package of measures to help China's huge number of farmers-turned-workers settle down in urban areas.

China has about 660 cities and about 80 percent of them will be affected by the measure. Some with too large populations won't adopt the measure.

Chen said the effort is aimed at reforming the country's rigid household registration system, which was introduced in 1958 to strictly limit mobility under the planned economic system.

Since the country started transforming to a market economy from the late 1970s, more and more people have left their hometowns for cities to work or do business. Problems then emerged as outsiders, who amounted to 94 million as of last September, were denied equal access to work, education, housing and other social rights enjoyed by locals.

Yuan Chongfa, vice president of the China Center for Town Reform and Reform, said there is still a long way to go to further the reform system, since it will not only facilitate the development of a market economy but will mark greater social progress in ensuring equal civil rights.

"Because the cost to become city residents is very high and only a small part of migrants can afford it," said Yuan.

That's the case with the city's 38-year-old migrant Pi Guojin.

"Even though the policy has allowed me to be an official resident, I will still be marginalized because my poor income doesn't allow me to buy houses," said Pi, who has been selling lighting equipments in the coastal city for eight years. His jobless wife and 10-year-old child remain in Yingkou, another port city in Liaoning.

In the city, an average apartment will cost at least 200,000 yuan (US$24,000), but their annual income averages 5,000-6,000 yuan (US$602-722).

Including Pi, hundreds of thousands of migrants are lucky enough because the local government is trying to ensure them to live the same as locals.

"I'm fortunate because now I share a heated apartment with eight migrants," said Pi, who spent a previous chilly winter in shabby sheds like most of China's migrants. "The rent is as low as 100 yuan (US$12) per month."

He planned to rent a single room and allow his wife and child settle down in Dalian after the Lunar New Year.

Pi's apartment in Ganjingzi district was among the city's 34 special places for migrants to live. The local government has also built 637 dormitories for them.

Vice Mayor Sun Guangtian said about 17 percent of the city's 700,000 migrants have been housed with help from local government.

The apartments used to be idle rooms owned by the government and the state-owned enterprises.

As the city is in its effort to become an important port and ship-making center of Northeast Asia, it needs at least 1 million laborers within five years.

"We will make more efforts to do away with discrimination and satisfy their necessities in the city," said Sun.

The city's example was set up with help from United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

With investment of about US$150,000 during previous two years, the UN organization has chosen seven cities including Dalian, Shanghai and Beijing to help facilitate integration of migrant workers with urban communities.

"I was impressed by the example set up by Dalian because the migrants have marched forward with a significant step, with safe and relatively comfortable residing places," UNESCO expert Genevieve Domenach-Chich told China Daily.

Governments need to provide migrant workers with more information on how to find a job and protect their interests and rights in a strange city, she said. "The management system should be an open and dynamic one."

An academy Professor Huang Ping said further work would be conducted for migrant workers to readjust themselves and realize the importance of law and public ethics.

He said governments should shift their attitude of restraint and rejection of migrant workers and instead focus on gainfully using their services and integrating them into the cities.

"The sense of feeling that they belong nowhere is not socially healthy and will do little to curb criminal tendencies," said Huang.

(China Daily January 6, 2004)

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