BEIJING - Legislators started to review a draft of the country's first law on mediation on Tuesday, hoping outside-court settlement of minor disputes could help ease the rising social tension.
"While China is experiencing profound social and economic changes, various kinds of social conflicts are also emerging," Minister of Justice Wu Aiying told the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the top legislature.
She said it is necessary to offer legal backing to mediation, which helps resolve civil disputes through negotiations under the guidance of a local mediation committee, eliminating the need for a lawsuit.
"Mediation should be the first line of defense to maintain social stability and promote harmony," Wu said.
The country has witnessed a number of violent attacks against school students this year, many of which were the result of unresolved civil disputes.
In April, Zheng Minsheng, a former community doctor, was executed for stabbing eight children to death at a school in East China's Fujian province on March 23.
An official investigation found Zheng carried out the assault out of frustration of a failed romantic life.
The draft law on mediation makes it clear that a mediation committee, comprising of three to nine members, will be mainly set up under urban neighborhood or rural village committees with a term of three years.
Members of such committees should be honest, fair and keen on helping others to solve problems. If they are found to be partial or taking bribes, they will be punished or even dismissed, according to the draft.
Any disputing party can apply to the local mediation committee for help, which will be free of charge, the draft says.
Du Chun, director of the legislative affairs department of the Ministry of Justice, said the practice of people's mediation dates back to the 1920s and was legalized in 1954.
After being abolished during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), the practice was resumed and written into the country's Constitution in 1982.
Ministry figures released on Tuesday show that China now has about 4.9 million people's mediators, who helped mediate 7.67 million social disputes last year, up 54 percent year-on-year.
Among the total disputes, 97.2 percent were successfully solved, and only 0.7 percent of the successfully solved cases were later brought to the court.
The draft law also stipulates that local governments should offer necessary funding for mediation committees, and mediators who are impaired or become disabled during work should receive medial and living subsidies from the local government.
Mediators are expecting the forthcoming law to help them overcome some obstacles.
"With no fixed office, very low salary and heavy workload, most of the mediators have been working under great pressure," said Zhang Junxian, 51, who has been a mediator for 30 years at Yangjiayu community in Taiyuan of North China's Shanxi province.
The number of disputes settled by Zhang and his colleagues are six times more than the number of cases heard by the local court, Zhang said.
"Even worse, it makes us frustrated when no one, including our families, can understand the pressure we work under," he said.
Zhang is often screamed at, and was once even knocked down by a motorcycle driven by an angry man from a disputing party.
Zhang said he divorced his wife several years ago mainly because of his work.