China prepares for first census in 10 years

Counting millions of migrant workers and citizens` privacy concerns are among the biggest difficulties facing China as it prepares for the world`s largest census next month, an official said.

Last Updated: Oct 21, 2010, 00:34 AM IST

Beijing: Counting millions of migrant
workers and citizens` privacy concerns are among the biggest
difficulties facing China as it prepares for the world`s
largest census next month, an official said on Wednesday.

Six million census takers will be deployed across the
country Nov. 1-10 to account for more than 1.3 billion people
-- the first such tally since 2000.

It will be the sixth time China has conducted a
national census but the first time it has counted people where
they live, not where they are legally registered, said Feng
Nailin, vice director of the group coordinating the 2010
census.

The change will allow China to formally track its
rapid urbanization. But accounting for its highly mobile and
growing migrant population, which has fuelled the country`s
astonishing economic rise, will be a "major difficulty,"said
Feng, who is with the National Bureau of Statistics.

Under China`s strict household registration system,
known as hukou, citizens are designated as either urban or
rural. Migrant workers from the countryside are registered in
their hometowns, not in the cities where many have lived for
years. The system essentially restricts their access to
government services including health and education.

Feng said citizens have also become less cooperative
in sharing personal details as they become increasingly aware
of their rights to privacy. Although census takers are sworn
to confidentiality, citizens are suspicious that the
information they give can be used against them, he said.

He promised the census-takers would keep all
information secret and protect the privacy of interviewees.

"The information will not be used to evaluate the
performance of any entities or organisations. This information
will not be used to impose penalties on any individuals," he
said.

Families with unregistered children may also be
reluctant to provide information. China has a one-child policy
and parents with children born in violation of the rule are
required to pay a hefty fine. To encourage people to come
forward, families will be charged a reduced penalty if they
register their extra children in the census, Feng said.

Volunteers have been going door-to-door in China for
months, taking initial polls of how many people live in each
home and recording contact numbers to help census takers ahead
of time.

The last official census in 2000 recorded 1.26 billion
people, though the country takes annual surveys that showed
population numbers rising to 1.3 billion in 2009.

The official data, which is not expected to be
released until next year, will give China`s leaders a clear
foundation to plan the country`s future economic and social
policies, Feng said.

PTI