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Spring Festival fuels rise in 'rent-a-person' services, sparking safety concerns

By Quan Zhanfu | | Updated: 2024-01-28 20:16
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An increasingly popular online service offering individuals for rent as companions, role-players, and even family members is raising eyebrows and triggering safety concerns ahead of China's Spring Festival family reunion holiday.

A recent investigation by Legal Daily into platforms like Xianyu, a popular online resale platform, uncovered a variety of services available for rent. These services range from "bridesmaids for rent" to "girlfriends for hire," and even individuals willing to impersonate parents or teachers.

The "girlfriend for rent" service offers companionship for activities such as shopping, eating, watching movies, and even meeting the renter's parents to deflect family pressures to find a girlfriend or get married, especially during holidays like Spring Festival. Charges for this service vary based on specific situations, usually involving a down payment and a balance payment.

In Jiangsu province, a woman surnamed Liu works part-time as a girlfriend for rent. She outlined her services online, clarifying that she relies on gift money from the client's family as payment, usually ranging from 500 yuan ($70) to 800 yuan. Any excess is returned to the client, and the client covers transportation and other service-related costs. Clients can specify age, personality, university, major, occupation, marital status, and family details.

When questioned about potential physical contact to simulate a romantic relationship, Liu emphasized the importance of verbal interaction. She stated, "There is generally no physical contact when meeting parents, as elders prefer well-behaved individuals. However, if faced with difficult questions, I will seek assistance from the client."

Liu mentioned receiving several inquiries and is currently scheduling her time to accommodate these requests. Interestingly, there appears to be lower demand for rented boyfriends compared to the demand for rented girlfriends as the Lunar New Year approaches.

The emergence of professional bridesmaids also addresses challenges faced by soon-to-be couples.

The prices for renting bridesmaids or groomsmen vary, depending on region and duration. Bridesmaids typically command slightly higher fees, ranging from 200 yuan to over a thousand yuan. Similar to "girlfriend for hire" services, costs usually involve a deposit and final payment, plus any additional expenses incurred during the event.

Bridesmaid profiles often include detailed information like photos, age, height, weight, and service guarantees. They assure clients of their willingness to assist the bride without overshadowing her and typically specify excluding traditional bridesmaid pranks.

Professional "rent-a-person" teams also advertise, offering actors to play roles like parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, and friends. These services aim to "solve problems in real life" and prices range from 1,000 to 3,000 yuan per day.

Despite seeming harmless, engaging with strangers on online platforms requires constant awareness of personal safety. Forming temporary relationships through online transactions can pose unforeseen risks.

Some netizens recounted instances where rented bridesmaids failed to show up after receiving deposit money, highlighting potential dangers.

Zhang Yuxia, a lawyer with Shanghai SUNHOLD Law Firm, explained that these services should be regulated under civil law as a form of labor employment relationship. However, the lack of written agreements may pose threats to personal security, and illegal activities such as prostitution could occur.

In response, Zhang called for stricter oversight and clearer guidelines to protect individuals from potential harm and exploitation in these unconventional occupations. Additionally, Zhang emphasized the role of online platforms in regulating these services, urging intensified reviews of identity and related documents and swift actions in cases of criminal activity, including informing the police.

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