A four-year-old girl found begging naked and smoking cigarettes in Nanjing has been returned to her hometown, police said, after outrage online prompted authorities to action.
Disturbing photos of the girl kneeling and begging for money on the streets of the Jiangsu provincial capital have shocked the nation in the last two days. Photos of the child and her father begging were shared tens of thousands of times online.
On Wednesday, police said they had found the girl and her father, Zhou Chonggao, and sent them to their home village Chenlong in Sihong county, some 200 kilometres north of Nanjing.
An initial report by the local daily Modern Express criticised the 46-year-old single father for being callously lazy, letting a child - whom it first identified as six years old - beg so he didn't need to work. Later reports dismissed the father as mentally disabled.
After their return to Chenlong, a village official told the Southern Metropolis Daily that authorities could not provide a subsistence allowance to the child because she lacked a local hukou registration, which the officials had promised to process by the weekend.
The case comes only weeks after two children, one and three years old, were found dead in a Nanjing flat. They had died of starvation, after their drug-addicted mother had abandoned them, media reported.
Both cases have led to a debate about whether laws to protect children's rights are sufficient. Niu Xuexing, deputy director of the Jiangsu civil affairs department, suggested in an interview with the Modern Express that current laws were too vague.
"Our child protection laws are toothless and weak," he said. "In foreign countries, these physical and mental abuses of children by parents would lead to legal measures or deprivation of custody."