China parenting law: First case under new legislation sees divorced mother ordered to live with neglected child

A handout photo. China’s Family Education Promotion Law is the country’s first piece of legislation targeting parents and their responsibilities in providing family education.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A court in Hunan province, central China, has issued the country’s first ruling based on a new law regulating parental behaviour which took effect at the start of this year. The court in Tianxin district of Changsha city, Hunan province, central China, on Thursday (Jan 6) ordered that a 9-year-old girl who was neglected by her divorced parents and forced to live with a nanny should be living with her mother.

It is the first case involving the new law heard by a Chinese court. China started enforcing the Family Education Promotion Law to instruct parents how to be responsible guardians from Jan 1, as part of its efforts to improve the protection of children. Before that, parenting behaviour was largely regarded as a private family matter and not bound by law.

In the Hunan case, the girl surnamed Hu had lived mostly with a nanny in a separate home since her parents divorced in August 2020, according to a WeChat post by the court on Thursday. Her parents previously agreed that Hu would live with her mother, surnamed Chen, but she was taken away by her father because her mother’s new home was far from her school, the court heard.

The father, also only identified by his surname Hu, left her alone with a nanny in a separate house, while he himself lived at another location. In the meantime, the mother only visits the child on weekends. The court issued a “family education order” to require that the girl move back to her mother’s home, and that the mother contacts the daughter’s school at least once a week to learn about her schooling.

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The order will be effective for one year and subject to withdrawal, change or extension upon request of the father or any close contact of the child, the court said. Chen could be penalised with either detention, a fine or an admonition if she fails to follow the ruling. Zhou Dan, the court’s president, said family education orders are a new measure based on the newly enacted law.

“The main purpose is to regulate parenting behaviour and create a good social atmosphere for the healthy growth of minors,” he was quoted as saying. China has a Compulsory Education Law that ensures children have at least nine years of education, and the Law on the Protection of Minors to protect children’s mental and physical health. But the Family Education Promotion Law is China’s first piece of legislation targeting parents and their responsibilities in carrying out family education.

Death of man bullied for being effeminate sends dark warning, say experts Besides cracking down on the neglect and abuse of children, the law also requires parents and guardians to reduce the pressure of school homework and after-school tutoring on children amid a national campaign to reduce the academic burden on China’s children.

It also includes measures to help the millions of “left-behind children” in rural areas, whose parents have to leave them with grandparents or other carers when they seek better paid work in the cities.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.