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Unregulated modeling industry shows laxity in child protection

(People's Daily Online)    13:44, April 11, 2019

Child modeling has become a lucrative industry worldwide. [Photo: Pixabay]

A video of a three-year-old girl being kicked by her own mother during a photo shoot went viral on Thursday, indicating China's underperformance in regulating the emerging child modeling industry.

The girl, known as Niu Niu, was physically abused by her mother in several videos, either being kicked or beaten with clothes-hangers. According to media reports, the girl was punished because her mother was not happy with her performance during a commercial shoot.

The appalling videos have infuriated Chinese media outlets and internet users alike. The hashtag “NiuNiuBeatenByHerMother” has garnered over 200 million views on Sina Weibo in just 12 hours, with many netizens and scholars calling for local authorities to carry out further investigations into possible child abuse.

In response to the public outcry, Niu Niu’s mother issued an apology via Sina Weibo on Thursday, denouncing accusations of abuse. She noted that she was merely guiding her daughter for better shots and the girl is well looked after.

Despite her apology, many E-shops which used Niu Niu’s images for brand promotion have canceled their cooperation with the mother, while over 110 renown child garment shops on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce platform, have signed up for a campaign to provide better protection for child models.

Fang Zhiqing, a Beijing-based lawyer and child protection expert, told People’s Daily Online that China's anti domestic violence law may punish the mother, but as an emerging industry, child modeling still remains a blind spot of Chinese law.

“It is necessary to adopt comprehensive laws and regulations to further protect the kids, preventing their parents and companies from exploiting them,” Fang Zhiqing, a Beijing-based child protection expert and lawyer, told People’s Daily Online.

Booming child modeling industry

Photo: Pixabay

Niu Niu is not alone. In Zhili, a small town in Zhejiang province, thousands of children from across China are taken here by their parents to seize the chance of fame.

With a population of 450,000, Zhili has over 13,000 manufacturers of child clothing. In 2017, the town earned over 7 billion yuan by selling clothing for children online, thus providing opportunities for child models.

Shen Rongfeng, a supervisor at Huzhou Mingbang Clothes Company, told Zhejiang Daily that due to the expansion of e-commerce in Zhili, the demand for child models had snowballed.

“It is a lucrative yet competitive industry. We receive dozens of applications per day, but very few candidates make their way into the modeling industry. Many parents have spent handsomely on training, even teaching their children classics and music to increase their chances,” Lu Lu, a child clothing sales assistant told People’s Daily Online.

According to the South China Morning Post, child models in Zhili earn 80 to 150 yuan ($12-$22) for a shot involving one outfit, or up to about 10,000 yuan ($ 1,500) a day for modelling more than 100 outfits, while the most popular models can allegedly earn 1 million yuan a year.

“Modeling can be a tedious job for kids. For a commercial shoot, it may take hours of repeating the same pose, while the professional training is exhausting. Many kids cry while attending training,” said Lu Lu.

But not all parents are driven by potential earnings. Some believe that being a model can help their children become more outgoing and confident. A mother surnamed Wang told Zhejiang Daily that she forced her nine-year-old daughter to try modeling because she thought her daughter was too timid.

“Now she is confident and likes being up on the catwalk,” Wang said. “I don't consider her income. I care about what she has learned and experienced.”

Legal issues

Although China’s labor law forbids employers from hiring people under the age of 16, with parents as their agents, most child models don’t sign contracts directly with companies and do not work full-time. This causes problems when it comes to law enforcement, Fang explained.

According to China’s advertisement law, children under 10 years old are forbidden to be endorsers, but the law does not stipulate that they cannot be involved in commercial advertising.

“China’s current advertisement law isn't workable when it comes to the industry of child modeling, as it lacks clear supervision measures and clear legal punishment,” he added.

Due to the boom of the child modeling industry worldwide, many countries have issued new laws to protect the rights of minors. For example, since 2013, all child models who live or work in New York State are covered by the labor law and regulations as child performers, while child models must have a child performer permit, issued by the department of labor, before they begin work.

“It is important to issue new laws which regulate child modeling, and its compatibility with its international counterparts needs to be improved,” added Fang. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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