Each year as International Women's Day rolls around, local women's organizations take stock of the women's rights situation. One important question concerns the right of children to have their mother's family name or take their own name. This year, that day coincided with the successful name change of Legislator John Chang (
This patriarchal focus is most clearly manifest in Article 1059 of the Civil Code, which stipulates that children should be given their father's last name, except when the mother has no brothers, or if it has been agreed that the children should be given their mother's name. It also stipulates that the children of a man who lives with his wife's family shall be given their mother's name, except if it has been agreed that they shall be given their father's name.
Women's groups have already proposed amendments to this article and to the Statute of Names (姓名條例), suggesting that it should be possible to decide by agreement or by drawing lots whether a child should be given the father's or the mother's name. They also propose that children should have the right to change their name after reaching adulthood.
Taiwan's plains peoples are mainly matriarchal societies, while the Han are a patriarchal society. Taiwanese society only adopted the patriarchal system after the arrival of Han people in Taiwan, and it only became a problem for the plains peoples after their Sinicization. Han society's stress on the importance of men over women has, for example, led to drownings of female infants in China.
Although such phenomenon are unusual in Taiwan, the problem of emphasizing boys over girls cannot be ignored, and we are already beginning to see a gender imbalance. Many people abuse reproductive technologies to ascertain the sex of a child and then abort girls, which leads to a gender imbalance.
Research shows that the appearance of a gender imbalance in Taiwan coincides with the introduction of such reproductive technologies. The natural ratio between boys and girls is 105:100, while in 1990 in Taiwan it was 110:100, 5 percent more boys than natural. In other words, 20 years on, one of 20 Taiwanese men will be unable to find a Taiwanese wife. This could become a serious social issue.
Women in fact make a greater contribution to a child's upbringing than men, and it is therefore unnatural to have a law stipulating that a child should be given the father's name. European and US divorce courts often give the woman custody of the children. The fact that the custody of the Taiwanese-Brazilian child Iruan Wu Ergui was given to his maternal grandmother is only one example that shows how Taiwanese courts are following the same trend.
Unfortunately the articles in Taiwan's Civil Code regulating a child's right to choose their family name are not as flexible as in Europe or North America, and deep-seated social attitudes placing more importance on boys have created a gender imbalance.
If we want to implement the regulations about equality between the sexes in Article 7 of the Constitution and avoid future problems resulting from the inability of Taiwanese men to find Taiwanese wives, parents should be given more freedom to decide whose name their children should be given. This is a necessary development if we want to break traditional values placing more importance on boys.
Kuo Cheng-deng is chief of the Division of Medical Research and Education at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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