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If I think a child is being mistreated in China, what can I do?

Chinese law is distinctly lacking in terms of protections for children, particularly those that are being – to Western eyes – abused. The two relevant laws – the Law of Prevention of Juvenile Crime and the Law of Protection of Juveniles – do have regulations that, in principal, protect the legal rights of children and prevent them from abuse, but most of the articles in these two laws are theoretical rather than practical. They forbid various actions, but do not mention what should be done to the perpetrators if they are caught. As a result, if abuse happens, there is no effective way to stop it. 

Additionally, what would be mistreatment to Western eyes is just a normal part of growing up in China. There is an old saying in the country, “physical punishment educates a good child” (棍棒底下出孝子, gùnbàng dǐxià chūxiàozǐ), and this philosophy is deeply rooted in the minds of many Chinese people. The situation has eased a little in recent years as more and more young parents have absorbed the Western perception that hitting a child is a form of abuse. But in underdeveloped areas a lot of people, especially elderly people, still believe a slap is better than trying to change a child’s behavior with words. If you ask them, many Chinese people will be able to recall the days they were beaten by their parents. 

The result of this is that if parents physically punish their children, many who see it will not regard this as being a serious matter – sometimes resulting in terrible consequences for the child. 

Even if the authorities are called, there is a strong perception that a child is better off with its parents than anywhere else, even if they are abusive. As a result, even if the police arrive and intervene they will most likely stop the parent momentarily, tell them not to hit the child any more and then leave the kid with them.

Another factor is a lack of child care facilities in China, meaning that for some children there literally is nowhere else for them to go. Severely abused children may be taken away from their parents and send to live with grandparents or other close relatives but few Chinese courts will deprive parents of their custodial rights. 

As a result, the answer is that it is very difficult to stop any instances of child mistreatment you might see in China. All you can do is call the police and ask them to intervene.


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