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China’s lack of concern for the safety of children

For the last month, there has been a raging debate over child abuse. It started when Yan Yanhong posted pictures of herself abusing her own kindergarten students; the pictures were taken by her co-worker, Tong Qingqing. She picked her students up by the ears, put children upside-down in garbage cans, and taped their mouths shut for “being disobedient,” and in other cases “just for fun.” Far more disturbing, was that Yan Yanhong forced her 4-5 year old students to strip, dance, and kiss each other (People’s daily reported several times on this story when it broke 1,2,3,4).

This is just one of dozens of child abuse cases involving teachers. In Shanxi a girl was slapped in the face for nearly 10 minutes for failing to correctly add 1 and 10. In neighboring Sha’anxi, a 4-year old boy was cut by his teacher for not performing his morning exercises well, while in Nanjing a teacher used a hot iron on the faces of seven children.

Despite this despicable behavior, not a single one of these teachers has been tried for child abuse. According to China’s criminal codes, child abuse is only a crime if it is done by a family member, meaning that Yan Yanhong and other teachers have to be tried under sections of code like “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” The paper however fails to mention it is exceedingly rare for family members to be tried for child abuse, as police routinely dismiss it as a “family matter.”

However, a month later, People’s Daily is reporting that these teachers were found not guilty of criminal activity. About which the mother was understandably shocked saying, “It is so unfair that the teachers who abused the children for fun will not be punished for their bad behavior, and it will not act as a deterrent to other teachers involved in similar cases.”

When one combines China’s legal loopholes that allow for children to be abused by teachers and family members, and a seeming lack of concern over child abductions, one begins to wonder whether children are valued by China’s legal system. This seems unimaginable  given Chinese society’s emphasis on the importance of children, and yet the system remains broken.

This is one of many factors contributing to the growing unrest in China – a sense that children, the family’s most valuable asset, is not valued by the state. The state does seem to be acutely aware of the need to protect children as they moved to increase security in schools to prevent stabbings, and the rush to execute the men supposedly behind the melamine scandal. However, cases like the one involving Yan Yanhong remind parents of their own vulnerability in a country where the rule of law is not applied evenly.

Their vulnerability is again connected to the state’s one child policy. As the Global Times exposed in this heart breaking account, families whose children have died are only entitled to an allowance of 80 yuan per month (some counties are higher, but this is the national standard).

Hopefully, these recent scandals help to close the loopholes, but for now China’s children are far from being protected by the law. It seems difficult to dream of human rights in China when, after 60 years, there are still no basic protections for children.