(0817 CR M07)HUKOU REFORM: A BIG STEP FOR EQUALITY

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The Chinese government has decided to relax restrictions for migrant workers to seek permanent resident status in towns, small and medium-sized cities.

But the long-awaited reform faces indifference from many nostalgic migrant workers who believe the hukou is more advantageous in rural areas than in cities.

A county in eastern China's Shandong province has promised its migrant workers that they could keep their land in rural areas while enjoying equal rights with urbanites.

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The State Council, the Cabinet, issued the most comprehensive guideline for the newest hukou reforms, China's household registration system, on July 30.

About 100 million people will settle in towns and cities by 2020, and the government will remove hukou limits in townships and small cities, relax restrictions in medium-sized cities, and set qualifications for big cities.

Ahead of the country's latest hukou reforms, many cities and regions had already made pilot reforms, including Shanghe county in Shandong province.

In 2012, the county with a population of over 80,000 started to pilot the hukou reform.

But at first many farmers were unwilling to try for a hukou in cities. And they certainly had their reasons.

SOUNDBITE(CHINESE)CHEN XIAOXIA, Shanghe citizen
"My first concern was whether I could keep owning my contracted land and other land-related interests after moving my hukou to the city. If obtaining urban hukou means giving up preferential policies under rural hukou, I would stay where I am."

Like Chen, most farmers still regard land as the most reliable guarantee of their livelihood.

Apart from land interests, what uninterested migrant workers also worry about are old-age care, house-buying opportunities and unemployment in cities.

The current dual hukou system has prevented millions of migrant workers from enjoying the same services as urbanites in pensions, medical care and housing.

To ensure the legal rights and interests of people migrated from the countryside, local government has rolled about several preferential policies.

SOUNDBITE(CHINESE)GAO LIN, Shanghe official
"For farmers who move their hukou to city or town, we will keep their land and various subsidies under current local regulations. We will also guarantee their housing, health care, pension and social welfare in city or town."

These preferential policies attracted 30,000 farmers, nearly a third of the county's population, to relocate their hukou from rural home to the town.

SOUNDBITE(CHINESE)CHEN XIAOXIA, Shanghe citizen
"Living in town makes it more convenient for me to go to my workplace and for my children to go to school. Also, urban areas' education quality is better than that of rural areas."

The local government has planned to invest more in infrastructure in town so they can attract more migrant workers to settle down.

The current hukou system has divided people into urban or rural residents since the 1950s.

A citizen's hukou has significant bearing on his or her life.

For the past half a century or so, great disparities have existed between residents with urban and rural hukou in terms of welfare and rights.

The latest reform will replace the current hukou system with a unified one which no longer differentiates.

Experts say the change is a big step in breaking down institutional barriers between urban and rural lives

SOUNDBITE(CHINESE)CUI SHUYI, Social expert
"Abolishing hukou restrictions will ensure the equal rights of all citizens. This is a big step."

Cui said it will also help China, the world's second largest economy, to achieve its urbanization target in a sustainable manner.
Video provided by Xinhua News Agency
Producer : Xinhua News Agency

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