Hukou blamed for compensation discrepancy
By Wang Zhuoqiong and Zhou Liming (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-27 06:39
A traffic fatality is always a tragedy, but now the family of one victim in
Southwest China know what it's like when an insult is added to it.
On December 15, three teenage girls shared a tricycle ride on their way to
school in Chongqing. As they were climbing a slope, a fully loaded truck
suddenly appeared coming towards them on the narrow road. To avoid a head-on
collision, the truck driver clamped his brake but the truck overturned, crushing
the tricycle. All three girls were killed.
The truck was a corporate vehicle, belonging to Chongqing Pujin Highway
Transport Company, which chose to settle with the victims' families.
Families of two of the victims got 200,000 yuan (US$24,700) each. But the
third one was offered 58,000 yuan (US$7,160), including funeral expenses.
He Yuan, 14, was her parents' only child, and the family were shocked at the
settlement discrepancy. The reason, it turned out, was the family's household
registration, or hukou. Even though her father, He Qingzhi, is a butcher at a
farmers' market in urban Chongqing, he is still considered a rural resident. So
was his daughter. By contrast, He Yuan's two classmates had urban hukou.
A 2003 regulation sets the compensation standards for such cases: A victim
who was a city dweller should be compensated with 20 times the annual disposal
income, and rural residents with 20 times the annual net income, both calculated
by the average figures of the place where the court has jurisdiction. Statistics
show that an urban Chongqinger averages 9,221 yuan (US$1,140) in per-capita
annual disposal income, and a rural Chongqinger makes 2,535 yuan (US$312) a
year. Hence the wide gap in compensation.
The truck company later raised the figure to 80,000 yuan (US$9,876), and the
driver, out of sympathy or guilty feeling, chipped in an additional 10,000 yuan
(US$1,234) out of his own pocket to He's family.
"But my daughter had lived in the city for 10 years," He Qingzhi said. "She
didn't pay less for her school fees because she had rural hukou. Why was her
life worth less than half of that of her classmates?"
Lu Xueyi, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the
root of the problem is the country's hukou system, which effectively divides the
population into two castes.
"The Constitution stipulates that everyone is equal, but in the past 28
years, this discriminatory system has not changed," Lu said. "The local court
should be ashamed."
Liu Junhai, a legal scholar at the same academy, reasoned that families of
the three victims were similarly devastated, but in terms of financial loss, the
rural parents suffered more because even though they had lower income, the
relative cost of raising their child is higher.
He interpreted compensation as mostly for emotional damage, which cannot be
measured by one's hukou or the living standard that it dictates. What's more,
the compensation has punitive and educational functions, he told China Daily.
"In today's China, rural and urban residents have different costs of living,"
Liu said. "But when they enter heaven, they should be given the same dignity."
It seems expert and public opinions are exerting some pressure.
Dai Jun, a Chongqing court official, revealed that the city was considering a
new compensation scheme that would treat long-term city dwellers with rural
hukou the same as urbanites.
That leaves He Qingzhi wondering whether this regulation, even if enacted,
would be retroactive to cover his daughter's case. In his eyes, for someone
whose loss goes beyond description, equal treatment in financial terms could
bring at least some relief.