The third amendment to the Law on the Protections of Minors was passed at the 22nd meeting of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress on the 17th of October. The new Law on the Protections of Minors will come into force on the 1st of June, 2021.
The amended law includes a new chapter on the protection from the government of children under the age of 18. The law specifically demands that within the relevant bodies at the county level and above, namely the departments of civil affairs, specific departments should be set up to carry out detailed programmes for child protection. Working alongside the previously established Division of Child Protection (left-behind children), which belongs to the Department of Social Affairs of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the Department of Child Welfare of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, these institutions make up the basic state system for child protection.
The Division of Child Protection was set up in 2016, and it was the first specialised government institution for child protection. The Department of Child Welfare was set up in 2019 by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, following the State Council’s “three determinations” plan (the short name for a set of policies of the Central Organisation Committee Office on the main responsibilities, internal institutions and staffing of various departments in order to continue the reforms of the administrative management system of the State Council). Its duties include setting policies and standards for child welfare, protection for orphans and abandoned children, child adoption and child assistance; improving the care system for left-behind children in rural areas and children in need; and composing official guidance on child welfare, registration for adoption, and the management of child aid organisations.
In theory, the establishment of the Department of Child Welfare would have demanded that equal divisions be set up within the local governments at the county level or above. In practice however there were no mandatory rules to put this principle into reality, but the new Law on the Protection of Minors constitutes a breakthrough in this respect. For the first time, the law makes it clear that a coordination mechanism for child protection has to be established under the departments of civil affairs. Moreover, the law requires that local governments at the county level or above should include internal institutions with staff in charge of the protection of minors. For the governments in towns and villages and sub-district offices in cities, working centres with similar functions and staff will also be set up to deal with child protection-related issues.
In addition to offering more detailed guidance on the coordination system, the new law also sets out guidelines for the departments of civil affairs at all levels to fulfil their obligations regarding child protection. Firstly, institutions such as residents’ committees in cities and villages’ committees in the countryside shall assist the civil affairs departments in promoting the new Law on the Protection of Minors among the public and helping parents with children under 18 and children’s guardians to get familiar with their responsibilities of child protection, with particular attention to children in need and left-behind children. Civil affairs departments at the lower levels need to check whether parents and other guardians have properly performed their legal guardianship duties. If at any time they discover that the entrusted people have failed to perform their care duties, they should report to the relevant departments within the local government and at the same time urge the parents or guardians to fulfil their duties towards the children.
Secondly, the law declares that under the following conditions, a child will be put in temporary care: if a child is wandering or begging, and their identity is unknown and their parents or other guardians cannot be found at once; if the whereabouts of the child’s guardian are uncertain and no other person can serve as their guardian; if the guardian is not able to perform his or her duties due to personal reasons or due to reasons like natural disasters, accidents, disasters, public health incidents and other emergencies which leads to a lack of guardianship for the child; if the guardian refuses or fails to perform guardianship duties, resulting in the child being left unattended; if the guardian instigates the child to commit crimes and so the child needs to be taken away from their guardian; if the child is seriously harmed by their guardian or faces threats to their personal safety and needs to be placed in emergency care.
When a child is under temporary care, the civil affairs department may entrust relatives to support them, place them in foster families or submit children to child welfare centres and minor rescue and protection centres for support. During this period, if the civil affairs department believes the child’s guardian is capable of performing guardianship duties again, it may send the child to the guardian for support.
Thirdly, the law declares that under the following conditions, a child will be put under long-term care: if the child’s parents or other guardians cannot be found; if the guardian is dead or declared dead and no other person can serve as the guardian; if the guardian has lost the ability of guardianship and no other person can serve as the guardian; if the court decides to revoke guardianship and appoint the civil affairs department to act as the guardian, and any other circumstances prescribed by the law. Meanwhile, the governments at the county level or above and their civil affairs departments shall establish children’s rescue and protection centres and child welfare centres to offer support to the children.
Fourthly, the law sets up guidance for social workers and non-governmental organisations to engage in child protection work. It requires the governments at the county level or above to have a hotline in order to offer help, receive complaints, and report cases where violations of children’s legal rights have occurred. Governments at all levels shall encourage and support non-governmental organisations and enterprises to participate in building better services for child protection and offer relevant advice and help. Other jobs that can be carried out by the local governments to support child protection include developing family counselling centres which could provide professional services for children and their parents or other guardians in dealing with questions such mental health problems, guardianship, adoption and child aid.