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Calls for legislative backup for children's welfare

(CRI Online)

09:06, March 18, 2013

The Ministry of Civil Affairs has penned the draft of new child welfare regulations in a bid to promote children's rights.

But lawyers and officials are calling for a legislative backup to provide a secure approach to safeguard children's welfare.

Data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs indicate there are at least 150,000 street children across China.

More than 80 percent of them come from rural areas, and 48 percent have run away from home because of family problems.

Earlier this year, the ministry came up with a new set of draft rules in a bid to better protect children's welfare.

Zhang Wenjuan, a child welfare lawyer who has participated in the drafting, says such a regulation will work to glue the scattered protection programs together.

"Now, we do have guardianship support services, such as compulsory education, social security benefits for orphans. But there is no comprehensive system to group these services together. Meanwhile, currently we don't have any rules regarding guardianship monitoring. For example, years back in Tianjin, a baby girl suffered a life-threatening birth defect. Her parents gave up medical treatment. Although volunteers managed to get the girl to the hospital, the surgery could not be done without her parents' consent. We need a system which requires the government to step in for a case like this."

The draft regulation is expected to propose setting up child welfare service centers in counties and villages to ensure families have the best possible service providers to take care of their children.

However, Zhou Hongyu, vice director of the Hubei Provincial Education Department, says mere regulations are not enough, as policies do not carry the force of law.

"We have a couple of laws about child welfare, such as the law on the protection of minors. But these laws only cover certain segments of child welfare. For example, we have laws to protect and support orphans, but there are children who are not orphans, whose parents can't fulfill their duties of guardianship, and their grandparents are too old to take the responsibility. Who should be responsible for bringing up the kids? We need a comprehensive law to put such children under care."

According to a study by Beijing Normal University, more than 570,000 unsupported children are living in the country, and a large number of them have been wandering the streets.

Currently, the government pays a monthly subsidy of 600 yuan for each orphan, but the program does not include unsupported children.

Zhang Wenjuan, the child welfare lawyer, agrees that legislation is an ideal way to identify the obligations of family and government in safeguarding children's welfare.

"A regulation can work to enable coordination between different departments such as civil affairs and social security departments via administrative measures, but it cannot require judicial intervention in the case of abuse or negligence. The basic causes for pushing children onto the streets lie within the family. If there is a related law, we could set up a monitoring system to either provide support or to intervene. The bottom line is specifying the rights and obligations between the families and the government to safeguard children's wellbeing."

The proposal for legislation is currently under review at the NPC session.

The Civil Affairs Ministry has pledged to push for the promulgation of the child welfare regulations.

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