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Students unmoved as school removes marriage, birth ban
Updated: 2004-03-12 08:57

The recent decision of an east China university to allow students to get married and have children has failed to stir the campus as much as many people expected.

"My classmates and I have not discussed the issue much, nor are we too interested," said Ren Ping, a 24-year-old graduate student at Shandong University. "After all, none of us is considering getting married, let alone having children. We're not ready yet, psychologically or financially."

Her university, based in the Shandong provincial capital Jinan,is the first in China to remove the 24-year-old ban on marriage and childbirth at school.

At the start of the spring semester, Shandong University issued a provisional regulation allowing students to marry and have children as long as they were of age according to relevant laws on marriage and family planning.

Boys over 22 and girls over 20 can get married at school, and astudent couple should be at least 23 and 25 years old respectively to have a child, says the regulation, citing the legal age.

The school also requests the new mother to stay away from school work for one year in order to take care of the baby and recuperate herself.

When nationwide colleges and universities started to recruit again in 1977, after the 10-year Cultural Revolution, many students who stood out in the competitive exam were already in their late 20s or even 30s and had to leave their spouses and children to receive higher education.

The increasing number of teenage students in the following years led to a regulation in 1980, in which China's education authorities outlawed marriage and childbirth on campus. Some schools even forbade students to date in the early 1980s.

In 1990, the Ministry of Education included the marriage ban inits code for college students.

Shandong University authorities decided to lift the ban becausestudents -- mainly graduate students -- outnumbered teachers in marriage applications in the past two years, said Zhang Anqiu, an official in charge of family planning affairs with the university.

"Many students were married or had a child before they entered graduate school," said Zhang. "Some were pregnant before they wereadmitted, and schoolwork became quite a burden for them unless they were given an extra year to complete their study."

Since China simplified procedures for marriage application in October 2003, schools had less track of the students' marital status, she said.

According to the new procedure, a couple no longer have to get a written approval bearing the official seal of an administrative department. They only need to present their identification cards to be declared man and wife by the marriage registration offices of the civil affairs authority.

"We've made the policy to show our respect for the students' rights and choices, and we'll provide them with care and necessaryhelp," said Zhang. "But still, students are not encouraged to get married or give birth."

Many students hailed the policy, but believed it was after all "one of great significance but little effect".

"It's a correction to the irrational rules of the past," said Zhang Qiang, a junior student with the school's institute of philosophy and social development. "But very few students would choose to get married because we cannot yet afford to support a family."

"There're already too many uncertainties in our life and the pressure comes from everywhere -- the job market in particular," said a 23-year-old graduate student who only gave her name as Li. "We're not ready to shoulder too much responsibility, not for the moment."

Most teachers with the university spoke highly of the students'reaction.

"It shows the students are getting more mature and sensible in making choices," said Miao Guilin, a faculty member with the institute of philosophy and social development.

According to Miao, most students think the policy is "none of their business" because they are under too much pressure from schoolwork and the job market. In an attempt to seek further schooling and stay away from the increasing competition from the job market, 90 percent of the senior students sat for the graduateschool entrance exam last year, he said.

Driven by the same pressure, some parents were opposed to the policy.

"How can they find a decent job in the future if they don't concentrate on their study?" asked one.

"Young people are not entitled even to think about getting married before they become economically independent," said another.

Ma Guanghai, a sociology professor with the university, said legitimate rights to marry must not be violated by any organization, schools included.

"The new policy marks the birth of a more humane and personalized school management system," he said, adding that the university should step up with infrastructure building and furtherpolicy making to ensure the actual implementation of the policy.

"For example, we should build a more flexible credit point system so that the married students can balance schoolwork and family life. Besides, more dormitories have to be built to accommodate the married couples and protect their privacy," he said.

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