BEIJING – Child rescue institutions can now apply to a court to deprive parents or other legal guardians of their custody rights if they allow their children to beg or steal on the street, according to an official document released by the State Council, China’s Cabinet, on Thursday.
“This is real progress,” said Ma Li, director of a rescue center for homeless children in Xuzhou, East China’s Jiangsu province, who said verbal warnings and trying to educate the parents and guardians do not always work.
But although the policy is supported by the law – both the Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency stipulate that custody rights can be deprived in the above circumstances, Ma said it will not be easy to implement the policy, as the current welfare system is not established enough to care for children taken from their parents or guardians.
“It’s definitely the last resort to separate children from their parents, and I prefer to use it as a deterrent,” Ma said.
Children living with a divorced parent, or suffering from domestic violence or whose parents are in jail are “high risk groups”, said Song Wenzhen, director of the children’s department of the National Working Committee on Children and Women.
According to figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the country’s rescue centers offer temporary shelter for 140,000 homeless juveniles on average every year before sending them home.
“However, a considerable number of rescued children reappear on the streets begging,” Ma said, who has been helping vagrant children for more than a decade.
The document also warned that local government officials will be held responsible if the situation of vagrant children in the region under their administration is serious.
China has vowed to take more preventative measures to deal with the issue and severely crack down on crimes involving children.
“Helping vagrant children resume a normal life is a shared responsibilities for the families, schools, governments and society,” the release said.
Schools should regularly report to the local educational authorities the latest information on dropouts and students who do not show up at schools, the release said.
Moreover, staff members from the residential committees in both rural and urban communities are required to pay regular visits to local households in order to supervise whether the parents or legal guardians are fulfilling their responsibilities in taking care of their children.
The circular also said the public security departments are required to file and launch probes into missing children cases soon after they receive the reports.
Street children will be placed in orphanages or foster families if their guardians cannot be found, it said.