China’s top legislature discussed a proposal to amend the charge of violence against children in the Criminal Law on Oct 27 after a number of cases came to light that teachers and nursing workers had used inappropriate force.
Under the current law, the charge of child abuse can be brought to court only if the offense happens within the family, which means some offenders avoid jail “even when their crimes are serious,” said Ding Jinkun, a criminal lawyer in Shanghai.
The draft amendment stipulates that people responsible for minors, the elderly, the disabled or patients in a hospital or clinic will be punished if they harm those under their care.
Ding lauded the measure, saying it could act as a deterrent.
He described a case where a baby sitter escaped punishment even though she admitted giving a 5-year-old child a large number of sleeping tablets.
“The baby sitter was fired and given an official warning after the parents complained, but there was no way to bring charges against her, partly because of a lack of hard evidence, but also because she wasn’t a member of the family and it was difficult to prove that the child had been injured,” he said.
In another case, a teacher surnamed Li from Daqing, Heilongjiang province, was detained for 10 days and fined 500 yuan after she was filmed harming children at a kindergarten in the city between Sept 10 and 18, the People’s Daily website reported.
Surveillance videos provided by the local police showed Li dragging one girl into a corner and then striking her repeatedly, and she was also seen slamming a boy’s head against a wooden crib, the report said.
“I cannot accept Li’s slight punishment. The short period of administrative detention can’t make up for the damage our children suffered,” a mother surnamed Shang was quoted as saying. She added that she will sue the kindergarten for negligence.
Ding expressed sympathy but said similar incidents will continue to happen if the lawmakers do not revise the current statute.
He recalled a case in Wenling, Zhejiang province, two years ago, when a kindergarten teacher named Yan Yanhong asked a colleague to take a photograph as she lifted a boy off the floor by his ears.
Although the local police initially detained Yan, it was impossible to bring her to court, and she was released without charge.
“It’s a legal dilemma: The teacher’s role meant she couldn’t be charged with maltreatment, and it was hard to prove that the boy had suffered physical damage by being held by the ears, so Yan couldn’t be punished for causing intentional injury either,” he added.
In addition to revising the current law, Yu Yongchang, an education specialist at the Education Bureau of Shenyang, Liaoning province, called for the qualification thresholds for teachers to be raised.
Tong Lihua, director of the Minors’ Protection Committee at the Association of Chinese Lawyers, said that the major stumbling block is that the current legislation relating to the physical abuse of children strikes no fear into offenders.
Ideally, laws should deter people from committing crimes, not simply punish them if they do, he said, but the current legislation on maltreatment and intentional injury is vague and poses no threat.