First law to protect farmers in the works
For the first time since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the country's about 900 million farmers are expected to enjoy a law that is specially designed to protect their rights and interests in the near future.
In the middle of June, the leading drafting group and the drafting panel of the Law on the Protection of Farmers' Rights and Interests of the People's Republic of China opened their first session, which aroused wide interest from various walks of society.
The media cited the event as the nation's first ever legislative effort to specially protect farmers, or the nation's largest disadvantageous group. Some media even viewed the draft a " mini constitution" for farmer protection.
Before this, despite continuous, growing pro-farmer cries from the society, legal efforts lagged far behind.
"The final purpose for designing this law is to get rid of it in the end," said a panel expert, who described putting the law on the nation's legislation schedule as of great significance.
"The fact that farmers' rights and interests have not been effectively protected is the real cause of many problems," said Wang Weizhong, a 66-year-old professor with northeast China's Jilin University and representative of the National People's Congress (NPC), who first set forth a legislative suggestion to that effect in 1999.
According to an official from a sub NPC committee responsible for rural legislation, the committee has begun drafting work and will submit it for the NPC standing committee's review as soon as possible.
In a proposal to the legislative authority this year, Wang added further content underlining the protection of migrant farmer workers, which was that "they should be treated the same as residents in such aspects as personal safety, work injury, salary treatment, kids' education and access to state-sponsored training. "
For decades, farmers working in cities have been suffering tough issues like delayed payment or defrauding, and Premier Wen Jiabao even wrote words to help a farmer get his pay back, drawing waves of applause and praise from both home and abroad.
According to an NPC legislative schedule, the first draft of the farmer protection law will take shape by the end of 2004.
"The legislation is necessary, appropriate and timely," said Prof. Ren Dapeng with China Agricultural University. "We are now discussing the scope and subjects of the law, and the household registration issue is one of the core issues."
Ren acknowledged that rights and interests related to land, property, democracy, participation in social affairs, land requisition, medical care, education, social security, employment and other issues will be included into the law.
"Their awareness of protecting themselves with laws is rather poor, a direct result of their poor legal knowledge," said Ren.
According to experts, the faster the pace of the ongoing urbanization process in China, the more likely farmers' rights and interests will be infringed.
"The government should lift the country's largest disadvantageous group law awareness and get them fully protected by laws," said Ren.
"The core content of the current rural issue lies in two aspects. One is to protect their interests related to agricultural production, and the other is to give them equal status with urban residents during the urbanization process," said economist He Xinggang.