A six year-old girl lying in the street, naked, begging for money while smoking a cigarette: that’s shocking. Even more shocking: that’s not the shocking part.
Like how runaway killer escalators was big in the news last year, this year there is a trend in the news media with publishing child abuse involving little girls. On June 21st, it was reported that two girls had starved to death in their own home at an apartment located in Nanjing. Before that was a shocking case of child abuse in Guizhou in which a girl was forced to endure such punishments as having her scalp scalded with boiling water for 5 years as other residents in her village refused to intervene.
This is the latest in this recent news trend: a filthy, emaciated beggar girl of just six years-old in Nanjing whose picture was shown on Weibo has become a full-blown sensation when it was revealed that she would beg for money without clothes while smoking a cigarette. (Photographic proof can be seen here if you really need to see it for yourself)
Each additional detail revealed would just add to the lurid spectacle. The girl, given a pseudonym of Xiaoxiao, was in the company of a man called Zhou Chonggao. Also naked, from the waist up. Who would beg along side of her. Professionally. Her father. Who would continually reject offers of help from the public welfare department.
Conversations with the two would only scratch at the depth of depravity at work here. This is a short interview between the reporter and what was purported to be the girl’s father, Mr. Zhou:
Reporter: Are you willing to do manual labor? Do you want to work?
Mr. Zhou: What kind of work?
Reporter: Are you willing to work as a security guard? For example, guarding a front gate?
Mr. Zhou: Does the salary include room and board?
Reporter: What about working to preserve the environment, and sweep the streets as a street cleaner?
Mr. Zhou thinks it over silently for a few seconds, and then says, “I don’t want to do it, it’s too tiring.”
Perhaps Mr. Zhou was holding out for a job as a shoe salesman, but was still wary of the hours involved. The interview with the girl is just as sad as you’d imagine interviewing a naked six year-old beggar would be like:
Reporter: Why don’t you wear any clothes?
Girl: Because we can make more money [this way].
Reporter: And why do you smoke cigarettes?
Girl: [no response]
Reporter: Do you want to go to school?
Reporter: You really don’t want to go to school?”
Reporter: Do you know what it means to ‘go to school’?
Any extended stay in China will desensitize any newcomer with an abundance of street beggars and the burden of tragedy they suffer through; and yet people will come to learn that for some of these people, receiving attention and money for free is exactly what they want. Your compassion is directly equivalent to their gain. It’s enough to drive an emotive, sympathetic person numb. And yet the fact remains that such an exploitative case of child begging is just yet another of many exploitative cases of child begging.
But wait, there’s more! This has been shocking news, but it isn’t the shocking part.
What they are doing is perfectly legal in China; there are no laws against it. No person, organization or member of government can stop them.
Citizens and local shopkeepers reported this incident to the police, because a naked 6 year-old smoking cigarettes while begging must be some kind of crime and calling the cops sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Says somebody:
“The police had already come around. They checked this man’s identity card, and then just left it at that.”
You can’t blame the police for not doing a good job when they can only enforce laws that exist. While this may be child abuse in your mind, you’re not a court of law.
Xiang Bin, a lawyer with the Xuanbo Law Offices of Jiangsu, states that Mr Zhou does appear to be mistreating the child Xiaoxiao. However, proving this is child abuse in the court of criminal law is much more difficult:
“The crime of child abuse is subjectively defined as physical or mental abuse; in this specific case, the objective of Mr Zhou is just to make more money [by attracting more attention from passerbys with the naked form of his daughter]. However, Mr Zhou has infringed upon Xiaoxiao’s health, and has definitely broken the ‘Law to Protect Minors’.”
But Zhou has not broken the law of child abuse, also a ‘law that protects minors’ as well but is not the same as the “Law to Protect Minors”, because: capitals.
Some may see Mr Zhou as the problem. Once Mr Zhou is relieved of being Xiaoxiao’s guardian, Xiao can finally receive the help she deserves. But you’re not a lawyer, a person who fully understands the law in China:
Lawyer Xiang Bin again states that this is hard to prove [in a court of law]. “The lawful, legal guardian of a minor is the child’s father and mother. As Xiaoxiao’s mother has been missing for a number of years, and Xiaoxiao is not registered to a household, what other people can be appointed as the rightful guardian? This is the key.” As Mr Zhou has all the rights of a citizen, with Xiaoxiao under his care he can refuse help; this makes this issue particularly hard to solve.
Give us the real deal: can this girl be saved by the society that has refused to protect her?
Xiang says, “They seem to be occupying a [legal] blind spot. It seems that there are many government departments that could be taking care of this issue, when in fact none of them are taking care of this issue well.”
Qiu Jianxin, Professor of Sociology at the Humanities Department at the Nanjing Aeronautic and Space University, provides the voice of authority by providing his expert opinion:
Qiu says, “Mr Zhou has the right to refuse the aid that is offered to him by this society. However, to not allow Xiaoxiao access to this help is unacceptable.”
And suggests a clear course of action:
Qiu says, “The police should take the initiative and intervene in this case; proper measures concerning the care of children need to be enforced.”
Specific recommendations based upon a sound argument and logical reasoning; but Qiu lives down his “expert opinion” status by tipping his hat to pander to sensationalizing his audience’s reaction:
“Exploiting one’s own daughter by stripping her naked to gain the sympathy of others and earn more money – with this type of shameful behavior, how can we allow this person to continue to be responsible for this child?”
It all goes to show how China was completely fine until someone came along and broke it. This is why we can’t have nice things.
[Picture from Sohu Baobao]