New Hubei law bans parents from checking minors' text messages

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Parents who check their under-age children's mobile phone text messages without permission may be breaking the law in Hubei.

A clause that forbids such surveillance is included in the provincial juvenile protection law that will go into effect tomorrow.

Under the law, already approved by the provincial people's congress in July, no one is allowed to check the mobile phone text messages, e-mails or online chat records of a minor without his or her approval.

Mainland law already bans anyone from reading juveniles' e-mails, but the provincial lawmakers wanted to go one step further.

When the legislature issued a draft version of the law and asked for public opinions in May last year, many parents expressed disapproval, saying they wanted the right to inspect their children's text messages for the sake of proper parental supervision.

Provincial legislators rejected that view, arguing that a majority of the experts and juveniles they interviewed supported the more extensive restrictions, the Hubei-based Changjiang Daily reported.

Hubei lawmaker Zhou Yetao argued in media interviews in June that the clause on text messages and online chat records was aimed at providing up-to-date privacy protection to juveniles, since such communication tools were not in wide use when Beijing issued the Juvenile Protection Law in 2007.

'The inclusion [of text messages and online chat records] will help protect juveniles' rights more reasonably, in a wider scope,' Zhou said.

But Yang Dongping, education research professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the clause on text messages was too detailed to fit into a general law, and Hubei lawmakers did not have a clear understanding of the mainland's realities. 'For juvenile protection laws, the focus should always be on general areas such as how to reduce students' extra study burdens and protect their rights to enjoy holidays and pastimes,' Yang said.

'If lawmakers go too far - putting clauses on text messages and chat records in the law - they should understand there will be no effective way to enforce that law.'

Many critics of the more extensive clause argued that Hubei lawmakers had adopted them from similar laws in Western countries without considering the mainland's special family relationships, and Yang said such criticism was worth listening to.

'Western [juvenile] laws emphasise human rights and independence for juveniles, but in China the relationship between parents and children is totally different. Parents tend to keep their children under their wings until they go to college or even graduate from college,' he said.

'If you suddenly tell parents that from now on you should not invade your children's privacy because the law says so, I think 90 per cent of Chinese parents would not follow it.'