China has failed to uphold the rights of the country's children, with many left vulnerable to sexual abuse, child labor, and harm through shoddy goods and medicines and poor safety standards, an overseas-based rights group said on Tuesday.
"China’s abysmal record in protecting children continues to raise serious concerns," the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in an e-mailed statement released with its report on the abuse of Chinese children's rights to health, safety, and education.
It hit out at government officials for failing to live up to international agreements on the rights of the child, instead often contributing directly to the violation of children's rights.
"Many problems with protecting Chinese children’s rights are caused by the lack of legal and enforceable safeguards as well as obstruction by government officials of efforts—both by families and civil society in general—to improve conditions for children," the group said.
It cited the poisoning of around 300,000 babies beginning in 2008 by melamine illegally added to infant milk powder, as well as growing health threats from industrial pollution.
More than 10,000 children in one Chinese city alone were found to have excess levels of lead in their blood in 2009, CHRD said.
In the same year, official media reported that police in China rescued 3,455 abducted children.
And in another city, almost half of the 2,500 sexual assault cases reported by females were of girls under 14 in that year, it said.
Limited access to services
The group called on the government to take measures to safeguard children’s rights to life, health, and education, as well as protecting them from child labor, trafficking, and sexual abuse.
It said rural Chinese children suffer discrimination under the household registration, or "hukou," system, in which all access to social services, health care, and education is available only in a person's registered birthplace, leaving the children of China's millions of migrant workers at a serious disadvantage.
"Without urban registration in their new dwelling places, migrant children are often prevented from enjoying basic rights and services," CHRD said.
"They may be barred from attending school and instead turn to work as 'child laborers.'"
On Aug. 22, Beijing police detained Xu Zhiyong, a legal advocate who has championed migrant children’s equal rights to education.
Those who pursue their children's rights are frequently the targets of government persecution, as in the case of parents seeking accountability for children crushed to death by collapsed school buildings in the devastating 2008 earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
It said the persecution of Tang Hui, sent to labor camp for her campaign for tougher sentences for men who gang-raped her 11-year-old daughter, had come to symbolize the government's failure to protect children from sexual violence.
Meanwhile, the children of rights activists and dissidents are themselves often the target of retaliatory action by the authorities, CHRD said.
"The Chinese government routinely retaliates against activists by threatening and mistreating their family members, including children,"
the statement said.
It cited the case of 10-year-old Zhang Anni, who was prevented from attending school in an attempt to retaliate against her father Zhang Lin, a veteran activist currently in detention.
The children of a detained Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Yang Maodong, known by his nickname Guo Feixiong, suffered deprivation of rights on the basis of their father’s rights advocacy while he was imprisoned between 2007 and 2011, forcing his wife and children to flee the country to seek political asylum in the United States, CHRD said.
In May, police in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi detained for "assault" a women's rights activist who launched an online campaign against the sexual abuse of schoolgirls, sparking widespread opposition online.
The detention came after Ye launched a huge online campaign in response to a child sex scandal at a Hainan primary school, in which women posted pictures of themselves in front of signs which read: "Principals: If you want to get a room, get one with me. Leave the schoolchildren alone."
Meanwhile, CHRD reported that China's draconian family planning policies contribute to inequality, selective abortion, and infanticide.
While government figures show a fall in the infant mortality rate, the nationwide statistics mask regional disparities, and those linked to ethnic minority groups, the report said.
"In the area of the right of the child to life, problems persist of selective abortions, infanticide, and the abandonment of children," it said.
"Such cases are greater among girls and children with disabilities, especially in rural and less developed regions."
It said no data had been provided to back up government claims that high imbalances in the gender ratio had been addressed in 14 targeted provinces, including Anhui, Hunan, and Jiangxi, between 2002 and 2010.
The group concluded: "The Chinese government has largely failed to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which it ratified in 1992, as well as most of the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child after its review of China in 2005."