At 17, Chen Cai is skinny and timid like a child. But six months of forced labor and torture at a privately-owned brick kiln in north China's Shanxi Province has aged him before his time.
Chen, who quit school last year to make money for his impoverished family in the backwaters of southwestern Sichuan Province, was abducted and sold to the brick yard, where he had to work 20 hours a day and was subject to whippings at the slightest sign of defiance.
When social workers found him in June during a crackdown on illegal labor practices, he was suffering from a broken tendon in his right wrist.
"I had thought I would end up working like a slave," he says at the Xi'an Center for Prevention of Child Abuse in this capital of the northwestern Shaanxi Province.
After several weeks of treatment, Chen's hand was able to move again, but the psychological trauma takes much longer to heal.
At the Xi'an center, he receives free medical treatment and counseling.
The center, sponsored by the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) and the Shaanxi Friendship Hospital, is the Chinese mainland's first ever non-governmental institution to provide free medical treatment and counseling for abused children.
Since opening in January 2006, the center has treated more than90victims of physical, emotional and sexual harassment, says founder Jiao Fuyong.
Abuse and neglect are causing more injuries and deaths among Chinese children, particularly in the countryside, says Jiao.
The former pediatrician at the Shaanxi Provincial People's Hospital says he had treated many children who suffered bruises and even fractures after being abused at home or school.
He says many of the victims never receive proper treatment.
"Few people used to take the problem seriously because in China many believe in 'sparing the rod and spoiling the child'," he says.
In their independent research conducted last December, Jiao and his colleagues found 60 percent of the 276 primary school students surveyed were beaten at home for behaving badly or getting poor grades.
China's newly-amended Law on the Protection of Minors, in effect since June 1, bans family violence against children. Yet only extreme cases involving death or serious injury are reported.
In May, a three-year-old girl in Zhengzhou was beaten to death by her parents because she was unable to read.
Violence on campus is also on the rise, says Jiao.
Wang Li, 15, suffered a ruptured eardrum after a teacher slapped her face at a high school in the suburbs of Pucheng countyin Shaanxi two years ago. She had addressed the teacher by his first name, which is considered disrespectful.
The once lively girl became depressed, refused to leave home and crying every time she was spoken to. Her mother aggravated her trauma by constantly recounting the incident and swearing revenge, "each time reminding Wang of the unpleasant experience", says Jiao.
Wang was sent to Jiao's center six months ago, after the provincial women's federation heard the family's complaints.
"When she arrived, she just crouched on the ground crying and refusing to talk to anyone," says Xue Na, a volunteer at the center.
Wang and her mother received six weeks of therapy and counseling, at the end of which the girl was able to communicate again and the mother stopped complaining, Xue says.
The center has a team of pediatricians, nurses and counselors from local hospitals, and recruits volunteers from China and abroad to help nurse the children or edit the center's publications.
"Victims like Chen and Wang are really lucky -- most abused children don't get any treatment," says Lei Tao, public relations manager at the center. "Sometimes we receive reports of domestic violence against children, but are denied entry to the house."
In China, many non-governmental institutions are active in the prevention of child abuse, yet many work at a theoretical level rather than provide concrete help, says Lei.
Kimberly Svevo, executive director of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN), agrees that China lags behind developed countries in the prevention of child abuse.
The Xi'an center would hopefully help fill the gap, he says.
"With the fund and professional guidance from ISPCAN, we're doing what we can to help the maltreated children and provide training to parents, teachers and social workers on child abuse prevention," says Jiao.
However, the whole of society should be mobilized to protect children from violence. "While parents need to spare the rod and resort to modern scientific parenting skills, the government should also set up a more effective monitoring system to protect children in and out of their homes."
A lawyer has also called for the early establishment of a child protection agency.
"An organization should be established to identify family violence against minors and advocate for minors," says Zhang Haixia, vice director of child protection with the Shenzhen Lawyers Association.
If domestic violence is suspected, its agents should gather information from neighbors or relatives and take action. She said，"In serious cases, the organization could call police and someone else should be given custody of the child."