Chongqing Bans Parent Snooping

A new law in China limits parental supervision.

Chongqing youngsters show off cards with their photos and particulars, Nov. 12, 2007.

HONG KONG—Authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing have passed a new law forbidding parents to read their child's chat history, text messages, or private papers.

From Sept. 1, parents who sneak a peek at their child's communications or private writings, online, on paper, or on cell phones, will be in breach of the municipal "Law for the Protection of Minors" this week, local media reported.

The People's Congress in the mega-city of 28 million passed the legislation in response to national-level laws aimed at the protection of people under 18, the age when Chinese are considered adults.

"The legal rights and interests of minors should be given special, priority protection," the law states as its guiding principle, adding that the responsibility should be carried by the whole of society.

Clause 39 of the legislation states that "No individual or organization should break this law by opening or checking the letters, diaries, electronic diaries, online chat histories, or mobile phone text messages of minors, so as not to violate the privacy of minors."

Chinese parents said they might find such a rule hard to keep.

"He hates it if I look at his text messages or his QQ (instant messaging) chat history," said a Jiangxi-based parent of a 15-year-old boy. "He says it's all pretty normal stuff that gets said between him and his classmates."

"Today's society is a bit disorderly ... and he can be very easily enticed by certain things. The Internet isn't safe now, and there are all sorts of unhealthy things there," said the woman, who gave her surname as Wang.

Changing role of parents

Guangdong-based civil rights lawyer Tang Jingling said that while the idea of protecting a child's privacy sounds good in theory, in practice the law would be unenforceable.

"The privacy of young people does need protecting," Tang said. "But if parents are to protect their child's privacy and exercise their right to safeguard and educate their child, then they have to understand what is going on with that child."

"Especially in the case of much younger children, who aren't self-directed or independent, everything they do has to go through their parents first," he said.

Tang said that parents' traditional role in bringing up their children was broken by the idealism of communism in post-1949 China. And this led to a great deal of conflict which was a symptom of an authoritarian society manifesting itself in the home, he said.

Additional focuses of the new legislation include security measures on school premises following a string of deadly attacks on kindergartens across the country, procedures for minors in the criminal justice system, and concerns about mental health, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The law states that it will be illegal to open an Internet cafe within 200 meters of an elementary or high school," the agency said.

Minors who commit crimes should receive education and corrective influences, it added.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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