China’s education authority vowed on Sept 5 to protect the rights of all children to nine years of education.
The move is designed to prevent incidents such as the recent case in which children were “adopted” by a club and taught to fight rather than go to school.
“The principle guarantees that those children will receive and finish compulsory education,” said Wang Dai, an official from the Ministry of Education’s Basic education department. “We will correct such cases immediately when we find them.”
A video showing two 14-year-olds in a boxing ring went viral on the internet in July. The two boys, along with other teenagers, had been trained in wrestling and mixed martial arts by a club in Chengdu, Sichuan province, and they performed in commercial fights.
All of the children were orphans and “left-behind” children whose parents work outside their poor and isolated home villages in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture and Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture.
Some who viewed the video thought the children might acquire skills at the club that would be helpful in supporting themselves in the future. Others criticized the club for exploiting the children and depriving them of access to an education.
An investigation was launched by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Sichuan provincial government.
According to Wang, 45 juveniles from Liangshan and Aba were found in the club, including an orphan and 37 children under the age of 16 who should have been in school.
“Now, all of those children have been sent to their home counties in Sichuan through the arrangements of the local government,” Wang said.
Wang said the children have returned to school. Those who have a keen interest in fighting sports will be sent to special schools that offer regular education in addition to physical training.
“We should strengthen the management of social agencies that provide art and sports training for children. At the same time, we will look into and handle every similar case once it comes to light,” Wang said.
Social agencies that provide art and sports training should get permission from county-level educational authorities first, if they were also to offer compulsory education, Wang said.
According to the Ministry of Education, 93.4 percent of children in 2016 were receiving the required education. The goal is to hit 95 percent in 2020, although problems with higher dropout rates in remote and poor areas of China present challenges to reaching that target, it said.