Volunteer lawyers helping abused children

8,900 trained professionals volunteer time to protect kids

BEIJING – China has formed the world’s largest network of volunteer lawyers in a bid to protect minors’ rights.

The network, which now has 8,900 lawyers on its books, was established by the Special Committee of Child Protection under the All China Lawyers Association.

When it was set up in the 1990s, the network had fewer than 100 volunteer lawyers.

“The safeguarding of children’s rights is an important step in the prevention of juvenile delinquency,” said Tong Lihua, director of the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center and an expert on juvenile law.

According to statistics released by the Department of Legal Aid within the Ministry of Justice, legal aid departments across the country handled 87,530 cases concerning the infringement of children’s rights during the past year and offered free legal advice to more than 1.1 million minors.

“Since minors have their own social character, we spared no effort in extending legal aid services to them,” said Sun Jianying, director of the legal aid department at the ministry.

Sun said 12 provinces have included domestic violence, abuse and abandonment as legal aid matters.

Some 14 provinces, including Liaoning, Jilin and Hubei, offered legal aid to minors seeking compensation for trauma they had suffered.

However, experts said the defense of children’s rights is still a long and arduous process.

“For example, in cases in which children have suffered from domestic violence, they cannot even sue their parents without their guardians’ signature of consent,” said Zhang Wenjuan, deputy director of the legal aid center.

“It is probably because of the Chinese traditional belief that parents would never harm their own children but what if they do, or if the family is incapable of taking care of its children?”

Xiao Long (not his real name), a 10-year-old boy in Beijing, has lived for years in temporary shelters for homeless children, ever since his father died and his mother became disabled.

Local civil affairs departments agreed to act as Xiao Long’s guardian and admitted him to the children’s home, where he could stay permanently, only after lawyers coordinated with various departments.

“The crux of the problem is that the law says relative departments should shoulder the responsibility of taking care of such children but does not make clear exactly which department has that responsibility,” Zhang said.

Since legal action alone cannot provide the warm family atmosphere a child needs, Zhang urged other government departments to establish security system for such children.

During this year’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, representative Yang Chunxing put forward a draft piece of legislation calling for a law to be enacted to terminate parents’ right to have custody over their children if the children have been abused.

“We have to build a national level guardianship organization for the children,” Yang said.

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