Editor’s note: What follows is CDB’s adapted translation of an article originally published by the China Philanthropy Times (公益时报) on the 25th of January. The original article can be found here.
On the 25th of January, the Ministry of Civil Affairs published two documents on protection of minors on its official website, namely the Notice on Continuing the Good Efforts in the Protection of De Facto Unsupported China and the Opinions on the Rescue and Protection of Minors Lacking Guardians due to Emergencies (the Opinions).
On the same day, Ni Chunxia, deputy director of the Child Welfare Department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, stated that the Ministry of Civil Affairs would promote a comprehensive mechanism combing family protection, school protection, social protection, network protection, state protection and judicial protection as a new pattern of juvenile protection. Under this mechanism, social organisations and social work agencies will play a bigger role in protection of minors, especially minors in special circumstances.
This latest action in child protection was partly triggered by what happened during the months when China was severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the pandemic, some children were left unattended because their parents and other guardians had suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and therefore were admitted into the hospital or isolated from their families. To protect and assist these children, the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council issued the Work Plan for Relief and Protection of Children with Absence of Guardianship Caused by the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, requiring any child was found under no guardianship, to have their case reported to relevant institutions immediately. Different measures have to be taken in different circumstances to make sure children in difficulty will be effectively assisted and protected.
In the meanwhile, to refine the legal provisions and expand the scope of protection, the Ministry of Civil Affairs in conjunction with the Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Public Security issued the Rescue and Protection of Minors Lacking Guardians due to Emergencies. In this document, the scope of protection has expanded from pandemics such as COVID-19 to natural disasters, accidents, public health incidents and social safety incidents that occur unexpectedly or would cause serious social damages and require emergency response measures.
The children of parents or other guardians who receive medical treatment or under quarantine, put under legally imposed administrative detention or restrictions of personal freedom, or due to participation in emergency response work, are temporarily unable to perform guardianship, should be assisted in a timely manner and with special attention.
To deal with these issues, according to Ni Chunxia, the Opinions has explained actions in four main aspects:
First of all, the Opinions has clarified who are the people to report to relevant institutions once they find minors in difficulty during and after an emergency. It is confirmed that if parents or other guardians, staff from emergency management departments, health departments, medical and health institutions, public security organs discover minors in an emergency and realise they are not under guardianship, they must perform their reporting obligations as soon as possible. Village (resident) committees, schools, nurseries, childcare institutions, child welfare institutions, and minor rescue and protection agencies must strengthen their childcare and reporting responsibilities in their work. Meanwhile, individual citizens, companies and organisations are encouraged to report once they discover any minors in need.
Secondly, the Opinions has made it clear to whom should individual citizens, organisations and public organs report when they find minors lacking guardians. In summary, the civil affairs departments and public security organs are in charge of receiving all the reports and taking action to care for concerned minors. However, it needs to be noticed that the civil affairs departments will receive reports only in ordinary times, while the public security organs will receive reports in emergency circumstances so they will verify the minors’ identities as soon as possible.
Thirdly, the Opinions has listed ways of reporting. Hotlines are one of the most important ways to report. Local civil affairs departments have been setting up hotlines to help reinforce protection of children in accordance with the newly revised Minor Protection Law, and collaborate with the “12345” government service hotline.
Fourthly, the Opinions has clarified who will look after minors after their cases are reported. The law has granted civil affairs departments temporary guardianship, long-term guardianship and other responsibilities to properly take care of minors whose guardianship is lacking due to emergencies. Health departments, education departments and public security organs also need to take effort to help minors receive medical treatment and schooling, and search for their relatives.
In addition, the Opinions has stressed instructing the wider public to engage in protection on minors through three main approaches. Firstly, social organisations and social work agencies in different regions should be supported, encouraged and directed to be effectively involved in rescue and assistance work of minors without guardianship. Secondly, relevant institutions must learn the specific needs of minors and then offer them relief supplies, medical rehabilitation, academic tutoring, psychological counselling and legal services. Institutions need to efficiently mobilise resources from the philanthropy sector and social organisations with expertise on children’s protection and rights, so that their collaboration will help improve productivity and professionalism. Thirdly, any institution, organisation and agency must fully consider factors affecting minors’ mental wellbeing to make sure the interests and rights of minors are protected. Inappropriate disclosure of minors’ information must be prohibited to avoid further harms.
Another group of minors in need of immediate attention are de facto unsupported children, which Chinese legal institutions refer to as children “whose parents both are affected by any of such circumstances as severe disability, serious illness, serving a prison sentence, drug rehabilitation, facing measures otherwise restricting personal freedom, and loss of contact, or of whom either parent dies or disappears, and the other parent is affected by the aforementioned circumstances.
Until now, the protection scheme targeting de facto unsupported children has been implemented for more than a year, and according to Ni, approximately 253,000 unsupported children have been included in this scheme.
Based on data from the National Children’s Welfare Information System, among the 253,000 children, 114,200 of them have one parent that died and the other with whom they contact, were severely disabled or missing, accounting for 45.1% of the whole group. Some 69,300 children, namely 27.4% of the group, are with severely disabled parents and 20,900 children, which account for 8.3% of the group, have parents in prison. There are also children whose conditions are more complicated, for instance, 7,700 children have one parent severely disabled and the other has gone missing.
Guangdong Province has the largest number of de facto unsupported children – 28,000. Five other provinces with large number of unsupported children are Hunan Province (23,000), Anhui Province (19,000), Henan Province (17,000), Guizhou Province (16,000) and Yunnan Province (15,000). The number of unsupported children in the abovementioned six provinces in total make up 46.6% of the national number.
Regarding educational level, 28,900 out of the 253,000 children are pre-school children, accounting for 11.5% of the group; 109,300 are primary school students, accounting for 43.2%; 61,400 are junior high school students, accounting for 25.3%; and 32,900 are senior high school or college students, accounting for 13.0%. Children of other educational levels number 17,500, accounting for 7%. In terms of health condition, 95.7% of the children are in good health. And for the registered resident status, 85.3% of the children are from the countryside.
To target this special group, the Opinions have three distinctive features. The scope of unsupported children, compared to the Opinions on Further Strengthening Security Work for De Facto Unsupported Children, has been expanded to children whose parents are revoked of their guardianships or deported. The procedures for identifying parents who have lost contact with their children now involve inspections of public security organs, evidence from individuals’ and neighbours’ testimonies, inspection reports from the village (or resident) committees and the civil affairs departments and more flexible methods depending on conditions of each case. Moreover, it has been mentioned in the Opinions that financial support is not the most effective way to help minors whose parents have limited abilities to fulfill their guardianship due to severe diseases or disabilities, or being in prison or a rehabilitation centre. In scenarios like these, more care, attention and mental support should be given to minors and their households.
In 2020, the National People’s Congress passed a new amendment of the law on protection of minors. Ni introduced this newly revised law has a few unprecedented features. For the first time, the law has affirmed the principles that can best defend minors’ interests and rights, established a coordinated mechanism for their protection, and elaborated duties and prohibited misconduct of parents or other guardians. A special hotline for children’s protection across the country has been mandated, and scenarios for the state to take long-term and temporary guardianship for minors has been clearly explained. Also, for the first time, left-behind children, children in difficulty and children without guardianship are included in the scope of legal protection, and the law calls for protection workstations and centres to be built at the village and the city street level.
Ni emphasised, “Article 9 of the law sets forth requirements for the civil affairs departments to undertake a coordinated mechanism for protection of minors. This is not only a full affirmation of the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ long-term efforts on protecting minors, Article 9 also sets standard for further improving the quality of collaboration between the Ministry of Civil Affairs and other institutions on this matter.”
 The English translation is from http://www.lawinfochina.com/display.aspx?id=30777&lib=law