Asia-Pacific, Children on the Frontline, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Health, Human Rights

CHINA: Children Cry Out for Protection

Mitch Moxley

BEIJING, Jan 25 2011 (IPS) - A growing number of reports in China’s state media have thrust the issue of child abuse into the national spotlight. Many young parents and teachers today have shifting attitudes about corporal punishment, but incidents of abuse are being reported across the country. Affected children are virtually unprotected under the law.

Zhiyin magazine reported earlier this month that 16-year-old Zhen Xiaojing was strangled to death by her father in September because she had been involved in a relationship with a boy at her school.

Last September, a migrant worker living in Jiaxing city in Zhejiang province beat her three-year-old daughter to death because she couldn’t remember a poem by the poet Li Bai, according to a report in Qianjiang Evening News.

Guangzhou Daily carried a story last June about a nine-year-old girl found dead in her family home in a village in southern China’s Guangdong province. Her parents, who had long been suspected by neighbours of beating the child and denying her food and sleep, were detained. The parents had falsely accused the little girl of stealing money from them.

In December 2009, a teacher forced Zhang Jixin, a middle school student in Wujing, Shandong province, to stand outside his dormitory in freezing cold for breaking school rules, according to a China Radio International report. The teacher went drinking and forgot about Zhang, who froze to death during the night.

A school official later prompted public fury by saying in an interview, “Zhang died peacefully. You can’t find pain on his face.”

Corporal punishment has long been commonplace in China, where many parents believe in the creed “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

In a survey by the Guangdong provincial government, 76 percent of parents, 52 percent of university students and 59 percent of middle school students said they believed there was a direct correlation between physical punishment and properly raising a child. Eighty percent of parents and teachers believed in the benefits of corporal punishment.

Forty-eight percent of those polled said it is acceptable for parents to beat or scorn their children, and 48 percent of parents, 37 percent of university students and 29 percent of middle school students agreed that “it always makes sense when grown ups punish kids.”

According to another survey coordinated by Dr. Chen Jingqi of Peking University’s Institute of Youth and Juvenile Studies, over 56 percent of 16- year-old students surveyed reported experiencing humiliation or physical punishment, and of those, 19 percent said they had suffered “severe” punishments.

“China has a tradition of educating kids with physical punishment, so no one thinks it is a big deal if a parent beats his or her child for not behaving well,” says Yang Menghua, youth psychotherapist and secretary-general of the Children & Youth Service Volunteers Association in Beijing.

Tian Wenyue is a 31-year-old accountant in Beijing currently six months pregnant with twins. She says her parents physically punished her when she was a child and she expects to do the same with her kids.

“I will beat my kids if they don’t behave well. It won’t hurt much, but I will make them remember for the rest of their lives,” Tian tells IPS.

She says that most people her age were also beaten by their parents when they were young, but finds that attitudes toward physical punishment are changing among her peers.

Fu Xuling, a 25-year-old designer living in Guangzhou, has a three-year-old son. Fu does not believe in physical punishment and has never beaten his child.

“I don’t believe physical punishment is the best way to address problems,” he says. “I’ll stand at my son’s shoes and solve problems with him together.”

Fu, whose parents also did not believe in physical punishment, says the drawbacks of beating children – including estranged relationships and low self-esteem – outweigh the benefits.

Yang Menghua says China lacks strong laws against physical or emotional abuse against children, and that local committees designed to protect minors are ineffectual and poorly funded.

Yang says attitudes among younger parents are changing and severe physical abuse is becoming less common in China, generally occurring in smaller centres and among poor families.

But she says emotional abuse, a product of pressures caused by the one- child policy, is a growing problem. “Well-educated parents always torture their kids mentally,” she tells IPS, “(because) the only child has to shoulder all of the family’s hopes.”

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