Tue, May 08, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Women's foundation pans name-change amendment

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Framed by patriarchal thinking, an amendment to the Civil Law (民法) allowing individuals to change their surnames represents "one step forward and three steps back" on the issue of empowering people to identify themselves as they see fit, a women's rights group said yesterday.

Passed by the legislature last week, an amendment to article 1059 of the Civil Law allows individuals to legally switch their fathers' surnames for their mothers', provided that both parents agree to the switch, representatives of the Awakening Foundation said at a press conference yesterday.

The foundation is a non-profit organization based in Taipei that is dedicated to protecting women's rights.

"We're happy that the amendment finally passed after six years of lobbying," said foundation board member and lawyer Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), "but it's riddled with problems arising from a traditional mindset."

The first problem, foundation director Huang Chang-ling (黃長玲) said, is that the amendment disregards how to address the likely possibility that one or both parents refuse to allow their offspring to switch surnames.

All it takes to torpedo the whole process is the father's refusal, Huang said.

"The direction that this bill is going in is promising, but there aren't any provisions to address what to do if the parents can't agree," Yu said.

"At that point, old patriarchal tendencies take over, leaving people little choice but to retain their fathers' surnames," Yu said.

The second roadblock in the bill is the requirement that an individual seeking a surname change must get his or her parents' permission even after becoming an adult, a foundation press release said.

A person seeking to change his or her name is also only allowed to switch from the father's surname to that of the mother's, or vice versa, and can't adopt a third surname.

In other words, the law treats those who want to change their names as minors regardless of their age, reflecting a backward cultural mindset, foundation members said.

"What's in a surname? The traditional thinking is associated with preserving one's lineage, a Chinese cultural mainstay. But sometimes that paradigm clashes with an individual's human rights," Yu said.

"This bill takes one step forward before taking three steps back," she said.

Those who typically want to change their surnames are children of single mothers or individuals who have suffered extreme abuse by their fathers, foundation members added.

Speaking to the Taipei Times yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Yun-sheng (林耘生), who serves on the legislative Judiciary Committee that passed the amendment, said that, no matter what, the amendment marks a step forward on the issue of surname changes.

"Compared with what the law was before, this is an improvement, satisfying the conditions of most people who need to rely on it [to change their names]," Lin said.

Surname changes, he added, create many "headaches" in the operations of household registration offices nationwide, and thus related laws and regulations can only be liberalized up to a point.

Legally changing one's surname was virtually impossible before last week's amendment.

"But we're willing to listen to the criticisms of the Awakening Foundation and work with them to make the law better," Lin added.

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