Legal practitioners and child rights advocates are calling on authorities to improve the country's laws on child abuse, saying that the current law requires that a child sue his or her parents in order to make the charges stick.
The issue is coming to the forefront after a couple from Southwest China's Guizhou province was detained for allegedly burning their 6-year-old daughter with red-hot fire poker and using other torture-like discipline to "educate" the girl.
"I hope the tragedy involving Ting Ting will wake our legislators up to enact a specific law on child abuse," said Zhang Hongfeng, a children's rights advocate from Xiangtan of Central China's Hunan province, told China Daily. "Many child abusers have escaped serious legal sanctions over the years because of this legal loophole."
Ting Ting, the little girl, was found with bruises and injuries all over her body on Oct 29 by a teacher at a preschool of Bijie city, Guizhou Metropolis Daily reported.
The teacher, surnamed Li, reported the case to police and the city women's federation after the girl told Li that her parents had burned her bottom with a fire poker. When the child was asked to lower her pants, she said it was too painful as the fabric had stuck to her open wounds.
The couple - father Zhang Zhou and mother Luo Mei - are migrant workers from the city's suburban Wayao village. They recently rented an apartment in the city's downtown area with their four children.
Luo confessed they burned Ting Ting's bottom and mouth on Oct 28 and once ordered the girl to kneel on a board full of nails and lashed her with iron wires, local police were quoted as saying.
"She often refused to do homework and even talked back when she was told to close a door. We're very angry and burned her as she was very naughty and needed to be educated," the mother was quoted as saying when asked why they tortured the girl.
Neighbors said that the parents even punched a hole in one of the girl's ears and inserted woolen yarn so they could easily pull her ears. The newspaper also published photos of the child, which displayed many wounds on her bottom, face and legs.
Bruises and scars were evident on the girl's face since she enrolled in the preschool, a teacher surnamed Xu was quoted, adding that the girl previously told her the bruises were from accidental falls.
The girl is the couple's second child. How the other three children were treated is not known yet.
After a preliminary investigation, police put the couple under administrative detention for five days for maltreating family members. But local police could not be reached yesterday.
The victim's father is now under detention but police released the mother to enable her to take care of the other three children, an official with the city women's federation told China Daily yesterday.
The little girl, being taken care of by federation officials, has been hospitalized and now is in stable condition, said the official who declined to be named due to the issue's sensitivity.
"The couple has not yet been prosecuted by other family members nor by the local procuratorate. The federation is donating money for the little girl, which is all we can do for her," he said.
"Though the country's present legal system has loopholes, authorities have to deal with the incident in accordance with the present law," he noted.
Tan Fang, a lawyer with Shanghai Jiahua Law Firm, told China Daily yesterday that the couple could only be charged with abusing family members according to the Criminal Law, as the country does not have specific laws or regulations about child abuse.
"The case will face a problem because the victim is too young to sue her parents, while generally no other family members are likely to sue the couple," Tan said.
"Meanwhile the case is not applicable to public prosecution as the girl's injuries might not be severe enough. But if no one prosecutes the couple, the couple won't face legal sanction," she said.
The present legal system is imperfect and needs to be improved, she added.
(China Daily 11/12/2009 page5)