Girls' deaths provoke outrage in media over official, community failures

News outlets urge authorities to improve responsiveness, tighten up existing rules to stop repeat of neglect that led to tragedy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 4:05am

The discovery of two young girls, aged one and three, dead in a home in Nanjing has sent shock waves through the mainland media.

For many, the apparent manner of their deaths - left to starve by their drug-addicted mother - has torn open old wounds. People still remember Li Siyi, a three-year-old Chengdu girl who died under similar circumstances 10 years ago this month.

Li was found dead behind her home's locked door, 17 days after police detained her drug-addicted mother for shoplifting. Evidence suggested she died a painful death after frantically trying to escape, scratching at a closet and kicking the door so hard her feet were swollen.

Her mother had repeatedly asked police to make arrangements for the child. But her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Police, neighbours and local officials were aware that the father of the Nanjing girls was in jail, and that their mother frequently left them locked at home alone for days on end.

On one occasion, the elder of the two girls was found wandering in the street, half naked. Police found her sister's diaper had been unchanged for so long that the infant had developed an infection.

The government gave the mother hundreds of yuan every month to help care for the children and made regular visits to the house. The officer who found their bodies said he had seen them often.

Not surprisingly, authorities have come down hard on the mother, who is being held under suspicion of negligent homicide. A spokesman for the Supreme People's Court in Beijing called the case "a family tragedy".

But some in the media have found the government's response lacking.

"It's still a shame," the Southern Metropolis Daily said. "Even with these vivid details and excuses, all we read was cold-bloodedness. Many adults saw the children's lives hanging in balance, yet what did they do? Did they really try their best?"

A post on voc.com.cn said the mother was responsible, and also the local government.

Five lawyers have filed applications with four Nanjing agencies, demanding details about local officials' involvement in the case. The lawyers say the government knew enough about the girls' situation to have sought their removal from the home.

They hope the information, if it is released, could help determine whether mistakes or inaction by officials at the subdistrict office, civil affairs bureau, public security bureau or local women's federation, contributed to the girls' deaths.

The Shanghai Morning Post praised the lawyers for zeroing in on a big stumbling block to protecting other children.

The Law on the Protection of Minors gives mainland courts the power to place children with a guardian if "relevant" authorities ask and can demonstrate that the birth parents have failed to meet their parental obligations or have otherwise violated the children's rights. But the procedures are poorly defined; it's unclear what entities are relevant authorities and what action can be taken if these entities do not request it.

"There are many situations like the protection of the minors where there are laws and regulations, but no way to implement them," the Shanghai Morning Post said.

The Beijing Youth Daily asked people to consider whether such tragedies can be avoided under the current system and what society can do to better protect at-risk children.

"How to revoke guardianship of such mothers under the current law and better protect such children should be the aim of our efforts," the paper asked.

Deputy Civil Affairs Minister Dou Yupei said recently that the ministry was working to establish protection networks involving families, neighbours, schools, law enforcement agencies and the courts to better look after at-risk children.

"An ideal design it may be, but when will the networks be ready?" the Shanghai Morning Post asked. "These children cannot afford to wait."