China adopts law to 'improve' babies

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The Independent Online
China's legislature yesterday passed a law that will prevent those deemed to have serious mental disabilities or contagious diseases from marrying or having children.

The official Xinhua news agency said China had more than 10 million disabled people 'whose births could have been prevented if such a law had been in effect when their parents were marrying or having children'.

The Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, ratified by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, is a diluted version of a Eugenics law proposed a year ago, which prompted an international outcry and comparisons with Nazi Germany. When it was first introduced, the government said the law was to stop 'inferior' births. Yesterday, Xinhua said it 'will help reduce births of physically or mentally abnormal babies'.

There is much prejudice in China against disabled people, and many fail to draw a distinction between mentally and physically handicapped people. Under the new law, effective from June, 'those suffering from mental and contagious diseases will have to defer their marriages when the diseases are serious and likely to affect others'. Foetuses carrying hereditary diseases and seriously abnormal should be aborted, and women whose health is threatened will be advised to have an abortion. However, 'the mother, or her guardian at the time she lost consciousness, has the final say on whether to abort the baby'. From next year, the government must provide pre-marital and pre-natal health care.

Gender identification before birth will be outlawed except for medical purposes. Official edicts have previously banned the use of ultrasound scans for that purpose but to little effect. In rural areas, where most families can, in practice, have two children, the preference for boys is still strong. State hospitals earn much-needed cash by offering such a service, followed by abortions for female foetuses.

The results can be dramatic; an official newspaper, China Information, this month said that in the city of Zhangye, in north-west Gansu province, the ratio of newly borns was 131 boys to 100 girls, compared with the normal 106:100.