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Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the People’s Republic of China

July 25, 2006

A parallel NGO report by Human Rights in China (HRIC), submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in advance of its review of the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of the People’s Republic of China on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Full Report with Executive Summary [PDF, 576K]




Executive Summary


The People's Republic of China (PRC) was among the original 64 States to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW or "the Convention") when it opened for signature at the 1980 Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen, and the government ratified the Convention within the same year, in November 1980. Today, CEDAW has 183 State Parties and remains one of the most widely acceded international human rights treaties. Whereas the PRC combined 5th and 6th Periodic Report ("PRC Report") reflects some progress in reporting efforts since the previous round of reporting, including gathering and reporting of information, despite the PRC's long-standing support for CEDAW, serious challenges remain for effective domestic implementation of the Convention.

Over the past two decades, the PRC has seen an unprecedented level of rapid macroeconomic growth; yet domestic aggregated figures of China's prosperity conceal the uneven distribution of this wealth between rural and urban areas—and, more fundamentally, between men and women. Human Rights in China (HRIC) submits this report to facilitate the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women's (the Committee) examination of the PRC Report by highlighting specific areas of concern affecting Chinese women. The report will focus on discrimination (Article 1); trafficking and prostitution (Article 6); education (Article 10); health (Article 12); and domestic violence (Article 16). Particular emphasis will be placed on the situation of rural women and girls (Article 14), who continue to endure growing and persistent inequality in their access to education, health and employment, as well as the situation of ethnic minorities and migrant women, who face additional challenges in securing their rights.

The implementation of CEDAW in the PRC is detrimentally affected by lack of transparency and control of information. Much of the data and statistical information provided in the PRC Report are classified as state secrets by the government, including statistics on kidnapping and trafficking, induced abortions, infanticide and the gender ratio. The data provided, therefore, has first been vetted by the government, impacting comprehensive, accurate and complete review of implementation of the Convention by the Committee. At the domestic level, if civil society actors, including civil society organizations, ordinary citizens and the media, cannot have access to information that would enable them to review and assess the full extent of the various issues affecting Chinese women, then they cannot actively or effectively contribute to the promotion of women's rights in China. All these factors undermine the ability of the Chinese government to build meaningful partnerships with both local and international actors in the forming relevant and useful solutions for the advancement of women that is consistent with the goals and purposes of the Convention.

In addition to constraints on transparency, there remain significant gaps between the formal Chinese law and its compliance with international law to which the PRC is bound as a State Party. This HRIC report notes that these gaps can be the absence of a definition—"discrimination" is not defined under Chinese law—or definitions that are imprecise or inconsistent with the international definition, as in the case of "trafficking in persons" under Article 6 of CEDAW. Gaps are exacerbated by inadequate implementing mechanisms built into the legal system, as for cases of domestic violence in China. Despite the numerous laws cited in the PRC report promulgated to implement articles under the Convention, these gaps negatively impact the effective implementation of CEDAW in the PRC.

Summary of key issues by article

The following is a summary of the key issues by article highlighted in this HRIC parallel report to the PRC Report. A set of categorized and concise recommendations aimed at improving both the reporting process and a more comprehensive and effective implementation of the Convention follows this executive summary.



  • Discrimination (Article 1): The lack of any definition of "discrimination against women" in PRC legislation hinders effective implementation of the Convention as a whole and prevents the PRC from addressing the concerns and repeated recommendations of the Committee related to discrimination. Without a definition, effective education, and training cannot be undertaken to combat societal discrimination. Further, reporting, assessment and monitoring are all hindered, and women are less able to invoke legal procedures and remedies.
  • Trafficking and Prostitution (Article 6): Despite reported initiatives to suppress all forms of trafficking in and exploitation of women, efforts have fallen short of substantive protections due to limited legislative definitions, administrative detentions of prostitutes, and policy execution. Due to the control of information and the limited statistics provided, a full assessment of implementation and the impact and effectiveness of initiatives is difficult to carry out.
  • Education (Article 10): The implementation of the universal right to education in the PRC is marked by weak political will to adequately fund education, which disproportionately affects girls: due to remaining societal prejudices, girls are more likely to be withdrawn from school than boys. The lack of clear data disaggregated by gender, age and actual drop out rates by region also prevents a comprehensive assessment for how continued discrimination against women and girls in China is both a cause and consequence of their lack of access to education.
  • Health (Article 12): The growing sex-ratio disparity in China is a serious indication that implementation of the PRC family planning policy is wrought with flaws that are both detrimental to women's health and the makeup of society at large. The full impact of the family planning policy as implemented, however, is difficult to fully assess due to the Government's classification of relevant information, including information on the number of induced abortions, statistics on infanticide and child abandonment as state secrets. Further, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in China has not been adequately addressed with a gender perspective, despite women's particular vulnerabilities. Rural women face further challenges on access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
  • Rural Women (Article 14): Although it provides descriptions of programs directed towards rural women, the PRC Report provides limited information about their actual situation and the impact of government-promulgated policies and programs. The PRC Report also does not adequately address the growing rural-urban divide and the particular impact on rural women of economic inequality and lack of access to basic services. The unique challenges faced by ethnic minority women, many of whom live in rural areas, and migrant women, who leave rural areas in search or employment opportunities in the cities, both of whom face additional challenges, including societal and economic disadvantages, are also not fully addressed.
  • Marriage and family life (Article 16): Flawed legislation and implementation have left a gap between Chinese domestic law in regards to marriage and family life and China's obligations under CEDAW. This includes insufficient specificity and inclusiveness in the scope of family/domestic violence; requiring a direct victim complaint in most cases of family/domestic violence; and lower penalties for perpetrators of family/domestic violence.

Full Report with Executive Summary [PDF, 576K]