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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

Other voices

Two radical proposals were made at this year’s NPC session. The first concerned the taboo subject of sex education. The second proposal concerned social security measures for couriers

Neha Sahay Published 04.04.24, 07:31 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo.

The National People’s Congress, the Chinese equivalent of the Indian Parliament, which holds sessions every year in the capital, has just ended. As always, it has given more than a glimpse of issues that rarely make it to the news. Beyond the constant celebration of the rising gross domestic product and economic growth, at the NPC sessions, one hears about hardships that vast sections of the population of this superpower continue to grapple with. These get raised only because there still exist grassroots delegates, members of the communist party who continue to live amid the communities they represent.

Two radical proposals were made at this year’s NPC session. The first concerned the taboo subject of sex education. A hospital head proposed that illustrated books on sex education designed by experts with the help of creative writers and psychologists be produced for schoolchildren so that they can equip themselves to face the adult world. A study done by the NGO, Girls’ Protection, revealed the shocking statistic of 223 incidents of child sexual abuse in the year 2021.

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The same delegate had, at last year’s NPC session, proposed that kindergarten children be provided with basic education about their bodies so that they could distinguish between ‘bad touch’ and ‘good touch’. The long-term benefits of providing sex education, the doctor said, would be youngsters having sex at a later age with an awareness of safe sex practices.

The proposal was radical because of the way previous attempts at educating children on sex had bombed. Although Beijing and Shanghai had come out with sex education textbooks way back in 2011, few schools used them. In 2019, two sets of pictorial textbooks for primary school children and those even younger had to be recalled after outrage from parents and netizens. One objection voiced was that the books were ‘infiltrated’ by Western ideas.

The second proposal concerned social security measures for couriers. That the concept of workers’ welfare should seem radical in a country ruled by a communist party is one of the ironies of today’s China. With the country going digital with a vengeance, the delivery sector is among the fastest growing, having expanded 20 times since 2012. Last year, 360 million parcels were delivered every day by four million couriers, but the couriers earned just about one yuan per delivery. Many of them are not direct employees of delivery firms, but contracted by a third party.

The delegate, himself a manager in a delivery firm, proposed accident insurance for these workers who must rush through traffic to meet deadlines. Medical expenses, disability compensation and even compensation for death should be included, he said. He also recommended shorter working hours and more rest time for them.

There were other interesting proposals too, from the most imaginative to the most basic. A delegate who had helped set up a natural history museum at a site known for its ancient fossils wanted more “grassroots museums” to be set up, with funds for research to attract local talent. Another delegate — the eighth generation in her family to have mastered her community’s ancient embroidery skills, set up her own company in a small town and even exhibit her creations at the Milan Fashion Week — wanted more government support for the traditional arts. A farmer who had received medical training and now looked after the basic health needs of 1,950 residents in her mountainous village along with just one more colleague wanted better training and increased pensions for village doctors, and also better schools and dorms for village students.

The aspirations of an ancient civilisation racing towards modernity found voice in the proposals of these delegates. Will they be implemented?

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