The recent conviction for child molestation of Wang Zhenhua, the billionaire tycoon and ex-chairman of Future Land Development, has attracted a lot of public attention in China. On the 17th of June 2020, judges from the People’s Court in Putuo District, Shanghai, sentenced Wang to five years in jail, while his accessory Zhou Yanfen was sentenced to four years. After the judgement was passed, Wang appealed to a higher court for an acquittal. On hearing the news of Wang’s appeal, many Chinese internet users responded negatively, asking for the case to be retried and for the perpetrators to be given heavier sentence. Shanghai’s No.2 Intermediate People’s Court accepted the case on 10th July, and the appeal court’s judgement is yet to be released.
While the case has caused heated debate among the public, civil society organisations have also made their voice heard. As a recent report by the Charity Times reveals, the Hope Children Aid Foundation of Henan Province (河南省儿童希望救助基金会) was the first organisation that reacted to Wang’s case. Zhang Wen, founder of the Foundation, stated that she believes civil society organisations should voice their stance on such issues, and later started a public survey concerning Wang’s case. It is estimated that nearly 50,000 people took part in the survey, 98% of whom reckoned that Wang’s sentence was too light. Soon after the survey came out, Zhang Wen initiated an appeal for a fair judgement of Wang Zhenhua’s case, and asked other civil society organisations to join her. Ten organisations immediately responded to Zhang Wen’s call and sent the survey’s results by post to the High Court and various other government organs. By Zhang Wen’s own count, another 96 civil society organisations had rallied to action by the 9th of July.
Zhang Wen is confident in the power of civil society organisations to carry the voice of public opinion to those responsible for designing strategies, laws and regulations on children’s protection. She thinks that activities such as surveys are best set to help pass the voice of the public on to the relevant institutions within the government, and thus push for reviews and improvements of the current legislation. In addition, civil society organisations should carry out work based on their own focuses and strengths to help solve the existing issues in child protection.
Zhang Wen maintains that civil society organisations in China are able to play an important role in children’s welfare and protection in at least three aspects: prevention, reaction and advocacy. First of all, civil society organisations can organise and participate in programs centring upon child protection. A good example is the Female Children Protection Programme. Set up by the Beijing Zhongyi Foundation, the program aims at educating and raising awareness on the prevention of harm and molestation towards female children. By March 2020, the Program had organized training workshops in 31 provinces in China and covered more than 3,720,000 children and 590,000 parents. Secondly, when child molestation happens, civil society organisations need to respond immediately and work with lawyers and the police to protect the victims and ensure fair judgement of offenders. Last but not least, civil society organisations should actively engage in child protection-related programmes and initiatives through advocacy.
In 2010, “Putting Priority on Children” was officially included in the national strategy. In recent years, due to the frequent occurrence of cases of child molestation, the National People’s Congress has been working on an amendment to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Minors. Now that the Congress is collecting experts’ advice and public feedback on the law’s second draft, Zhang Wen is calling for civil society organisations to make an effort to give suggestions based on real life cases and good practice examples from organisations both in China and abroad.