Amalgamates and streamlines . . .
China's National People's Congress passed China's first-ever civil code last Thursday. The civil code is an amalgamation and streamlining of several existing laws on marriage, property rights, inheritance, and contracts, among others, as well as new legal provisions not in previous legislation. The code touches on almost all aspects of civil life. The timing of the new code –amid the COVID-19 recession – is purely coincidental. Still, the pandemic did delay its approval and allowed for an additional two months of debate and modifications. As is often the case in China, the legislative process can take a long time, and the legislature that approves laws convenes only once a year. The new civil code has been in the making since 2014 when China's Communist Party announced that separate civil laws had to be merged and streamlined into one civil code. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2021.
Divorce, family planning, and sexual harassment . . .
The new law contains a novel policy regarding divorce, stipulating a 30-day ‘cooling-off’ period after a couple’s first request for divorce. The purpose of this policy is to have couples rethink “impulsive” decisions to divorce, allowing them to withdrawal their request upon longer reflection. Another important aspect to the new law is that it will enable minors that are sexual harassment victims to sue perpetrators after reaching the age of 18, closing a loophole in existing legislation by allowing victims to press charges many years after the harassment took place. Also of note is that the new law does not contain any revisions to China's family planning and birth control policies, or LGBTQ+ rights, such as marriage.
Civil code to promote state interests . . .
The new civil code provisions suggest that the law’s principal purpose is to safeguard regime interests rather than protect citizen rights and freedoms. Notably, the ‘cooling-off’ period for divorce has been proposed to reverse a rising trend of divorce in China (there were 4.5 million divorces last year). The breakdown of these marriages is seen as a potential regime destabilizer. Importantly for Canada, the code will also affect foreigners doing business in China, as it will replace current contract and property laws.
- The Guardian: Anger in China at law ordering 'cooling-off' period before divorce
- NPC Observer: Civil Code of the People's Republic of China
- Sixth Tone: China has a civil code now. What does it mean?