Following the deaths of two young children earlier in the week, 13 members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a government advisory body, on Wednesday proposed making careless parenting a crime.
The proposal came in the run-up to the CPPCC’s annual meeting, to be held from Friday to around the middle of the month, roughly coinciding with the annual meeting of the country’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, which will begin Sunday. Together, the meetings are known as lianghui, or the “two sessions.”
On Monday, two young children fell to their deaths at a shopping mall in Tianjin, northern China. The 5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl were being held by their father by a glass barrier on the fourth floor when they fell to the first floor. Conflicting reports from eyewitnesses cast doubt on how the accident happened, and local police have said they are investigating. Online, the case set off a discussion about whether parents should be held responsible in cases of accidental death or injury.
Li You, the leading CPPCC member behind the proposal, told Chengdu Economic Daily that “careless guardianship of children” should be added to the country’s criminal law. Li is the vice chairman of his provincial branch of the China Democratic League, one of the eight non-Communist, officially recognized political parties in China.
The proposal states that guardians should be punished according to the severity of the injury and the extent to which they as adults are at fault. Parents who could have foreseen their children suffering injuries, being psychologically damaged or sexually assaulted, or becoming victims of other harm should be charged with this new crime, as should parents who know their child is about to be harmed but believe that it cannot be avoided. Lighter punishments include fines, detention, or family education lasting up to six months. For cases involving death or severe injury, guardians should be charged with “negligent homicide” or “criminal negligence resulting in serious injury.”
“At present, for those negligent parents who cause their children’s injury or disability, or lead them to commit crimes, basically we only have moral condemnation without legal charges,” Li wrote in the proposal.
Sui Bing, a lawyer at Capital Equity Legal Group in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that he believes the proposal could attract more attention to parents’ legal responsibilities in these kinds of situations. When, for example, a child is abused, the abuser gets punished, but the responsibility of the parents is not clear, he said.
According to Sui, the accident in Tianjin is actually already covered under the law. “For instances in which children die or are severely injured, such as the case in Tianjin, we can turn to existing charges in the criminal law,” said Sui, who worked for five years as a public prosecutor before becoming a lawyer.
More than 200,000 children — or about 550 per day — die from accidents in China every year, accounting for one-third of all child deaths. In January, a video circulating online showed the tragic scene of a 4-year-old boy drowning in a swimming pool in central China while his mother was engrossed in her phone just a few meters away.
However, Sui said that even if the new crime is added to the law — an unlikely scenario, at least in the short term — it doesn’t mean that the eventual punishment will necessarily be more severe. “There are a lot cases in which parents who have no malicious intent are either not sued, or are given suspended sentences,” he said.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A father holds his child above a frozen river in Beijing, Dec. 22, 2013. VCG)