Youth Daily Calls for Reform of Hukou System

March 14, 2005

China’s residence permit (hukou) system not only contravenes international human rights covenants, but also rights guaranteed by China's Constitution, according to an article published March 1 in the China Youth Daily (CYD). The broadly critical commentary called for both fundamental reform of the hukou system and true freedom of residence. The hukou system prevents Chinese citizens from freely choosing where they live, and also is a major cause of the growing divide between migrant communities and established residents in China’s cities. This social and economic divide has been discussed both in Chinese media reports and in the freedom of residence section of the Commission’s 2004 Annual Report.

The CYD article argues that the hukou system conflicts with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as broad guarantees of personal freedoms enshrined in China's Constitution. (The Chinese government signed the ICCPR in 1998, but has not yet ratified it.) In 1975, the National People’s Congress (NPC) removed the explicit guarantees of freedom of residence that were written into the 1954 Constitution.

Many local governments in China have reformed local hukou regulations in recent years. (For further information, see the hukou reform chart on the CECC Web site.) These reforms principally have been directed at relaxing restrictions to benefit wealthy individuals, but the changes generally have not addressed the continued linkage of hukou status with access to public services, a key problem for poor migrants. As Chinese observers have noted, breaking this link would be the ultimate test of the seriousness of hukou reform.

According to the CYD article, public security officials in the central government are currently working on comprehensive plans for hukou reform. Chinese authorities have not placed hukou reform on the NPC legislative calendar for this year, but individual NPC delegates have called for legislative action.