CHINA: Child welfare needs legislative backup

[7 December 2010] - A three-year-old girl was beaten to death on November 14 by her mother, who then dumped the body in the sea near Xiamen in Fujian Province. Four days later in Jiangsu Province, a primary teacher threw an eight-year-old boy from the fourth floor of a building. Miraculously, the boy survived. 

These two child abuse cases were widely reported because the assailants had set out to kill their victims, and in one case succeeded. But abuse cases in which the child is merely injured often go unreported. 

Although China has laws in place to protect vulnerable children and minors, in many parts of the country, particularly poorer areas, children's rights are still not taken seriously.

Rapid economic growth and poverty alleviation measures have improved child welfare in China over the past three decades. But social changes brought about by economic growth have also resulted in new challenges for child protection.

Changes in family structure, urbanization, and massive internal migration have exposed children to new risks and dangers that child protection laws drafted a decade ago could not foresee.

"Children in China are exposed to unsafe migration, lack of parental care, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, violence and abuse," says Kirsten Di Martino, child rights chief of UNICEF in China at Forum on Child Welfare and Child Protection at One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute, Beijing Normal University.

The Chinese government has made considerable efforts to improve child protection and child welfare, evidenced by a string of policies enacted in recent years. In late October the central government announced that 2.5 billion yuan (US$373.12 million) would be spent on infant and child protection next year.

But the issue of child protection and child welfare cannot be addressed entirely through social assistance and poverty alleviation. And relying on adjustments to government policy may not always achieve expected results, because policy, in many cases, does not carry the force of law. Legislation can provide a much more secure and stable approach to guarding the rights of children and demonstrate a higher level of seriousness and resolution on the part of the government.

"Our experience in China has shown us new child protection challenges require a more comprehensive and system-based approach," said Ms. Di Martino.

Present Chinese laws on child protection cover all minors, i.e. all those under 18. But they mainly relate to physical protection. Children's rights, especially of those under ten years old, are still not covered by specific laws, according to Wang Zhengyao, dean of the One Foundation Philanthropy Research Institute at Beijing Normal University. 

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