A Shanghai court has issued the country's first mandatory order for parenting education to a mother who twice abandoned her son.
He Cuiling, the alias of a migrant worker in Shanghai, was sentenced to three years in prison, with five years probation, in February by the Changning District People's Court for child abandonment.
The court required her to receive mandatory parenting education during her probation. If she completes the order, her prison sentence will be suspended.
The case was brought to the attention of the procuratorate in Changning district in 2018 amid research on the protection of the rights and interests of children living in poor conditions in the district.
The local civil affairs bureau told the procuratorate that the boy, referred to by his alias Le Le, had been abandoned by his mother for years and lived in a private charity house.
In 2005, He had a one-night stand with a Shanghai resident surnamed Liu and became pregnant, resulting in a divorce with her husband. The woman then sought help from Liu, but Liu, who was married, refused to accept Le Le. She brought Liu to court in 2012.
In 2013, the Changning District People's Court announced that He received custody of Le Le and Liu should pay maintenance of 1,200 yuan ($233) per month until the child reaches adulthood.
However, just a few days after the sentencing, Le Le was found abandoned in the court lobby. Although his mother picked up the child a month later, she abandoned him again outside the court in 2015.
The boy then went to live in a private charity house for four years.
After hearing about the case, the procuratorate decided to prosecute He for child abandonment in 2018. The government of Xinjing town in Changning district took temporary responsibility of child care.
"Whether to deprive the woman of her custody of the child was a tricky problem," said You Lina, a prosecutor who handled the case.
"We have to take into consideration the children's willingness to live with their parents, the parents' situation and children's physical and mental health," You said.
When asked, Le Le said he missed his mother and wanted to live with her. She expressed regret for abandoning the child and promised to take care of him. Her sister, who also works in Shanghai, gave a written guarantee to provide accommodation for He and the boy.
In February, He was sentenced to three years in prison with five years' probation by the Changning District People's Court. The court also required He to receive mandatory parenting education during the probation.
The law on the protection of minors stipulates that parents or other guardians shall undergo family education, perform their guardianship duties and raise and educate minors. Government offices and social organisations shall provide guidance on parenting education.
The Changning District Women's Federation will provide the education and has purchased psychological and family counseling services. The education also includes aspects like legal knowledge, vocational skills and parent-child communication.
If He abandons the child again or shows any other irresponsibility as a mother, the local civil affairs bureau will take custody of the child, and she will go to prison.
"Mandatory parenting education is vital in accelerating the sense of responsibility in parenting, especially for poorly educated parents in a harsh family environment," said Ren Haitao, associate professor in law at East China Normal University.
Ren stressed that children benefit much more from being raised by their parents than at charity houses, which is why mandatory parenting education is critical in the process.
"The core of child custody laws is to protect minors' rights, not to merely punish parents, and the mandatory parenting education is in line with that purpose," he added.
According to the court, 13-year-old Le Le has performed fairly well in school. His mother takes good care of him and regularly communicates with teachers at school. Additionally, the district's authority of civil affairs has issued a living allowance to support the family.