The girl looked pale, thin and weak. She was so small; nobody would have guessed she was 11 years old.
After being rescued from her abusive father on May 8, Yang Xin (pseudonym), from Bijie, Guizhou Province, was placed in a local hospital where she quietly curled up like a wounded little animal on a hospital bed. There were bruises all over her body. She has the height of an average 7 year old after suffering long term malnutrition and constant beatings from her father, Yang Shihai.
Her once soft and thick hair is now almost gone. Her scalp is scarred.
In October she came home late after collecting plants in the mountains. Her father furiously picked her up by her feet and dipped her head in a pot of boiling water.
Her life was a horror film. Over the past six years, Yang Xin was pierced with needles, forced to kneel on broken glass, and once had her mouth sewn shut by her father using fish wire to "keep her quiet."
"I was appalled. I can't imagine how someone could be this cruel to his own child," said Wang Jie, one of the local volunteers who helped Yang Xin in hospital.
Yang's case has reverberated throughout China, prompting the public to ask why such appalling child abuse cases keep appearing in modern society and more importantly, how to effectively stop such cruelty in the future.
A life of misery
Yang Xin's nightmare started when she was 5 years old.
According to her grandmother, Yang's parents left their impoverished hometown to work in big cities as migrant workers after Yang was born. She was raised by her grandparents until the age of 5. When the family finally reunited, Yang suddenly found she had four new siblings, all born while their parents were working elsewhere.
"It was sad. The girl's father treated the other kids like a normal parent but often beat little Yang Xin as if she wasn't his. After working as a migrant worker for five years, he seemed to feel nothing for the daughter he left behind," said Wang.
Yang Xin's father is currently being detained by police and the mother has disappeared from sight. Several local residents told the Global Times that the mother treated the girl with indifference.
"She never paid her daughter any visits in the hospital. After she was confronted by angry parents over instances of child abuse, she couldn't handle the pressure. She left home, leaving her other four children behind, and never came back," Wang said.
Although Yang's parents were not available for interviews, analysts said that they fit the typical profile of impoverished, abusive parents throughout the country.
"We've seen similar cases before. Families like this have many more children than they can afford and are under a lot of financial pressure. Parents are often uneducated, which means the concept of child protection doesn't even enter their minds. They are emotionally detached from their children after years of separation. Life has been hard on them, and they try to vent their disappointment and frustration through the physical abuse of their children," Zhang Xuemei, the deputy director of the Beijing Voluntary Lawyers for the Protection of Minors, told the Global Times.
Chen Huiqi, a child protection lawyer from Guizhou Province, drove down to Bijie on Wednesday to visit Yang Xin. Chen wants to separate the girl from her family, believing her parents are both psychologically and financially incapable of raising her.
But it won't be easy.
"There are a lot of legal barriers. China's law for the protection of minors stipulates that in the case of an abusive family environment, people of interest can appeal to the court demanding the relocation of the minor. But the law is very ambiguous on that clause. It does not specify who 'people of interest' are, nor does it say where the minor should be relocated to," Chen told the Global Times.
Yang's future depends largely on the decision of the local procuratorate as to whether her injuries as severe enough to prosecute her father.
According to Chen, there are only two cases in which children can be rescued from abusive parents. The first is when a member of the family reports abuse to the court. The second is when the procuratorate is filing formal charges against the parents, in cases where a child has been severely hurt, such as losing a limb, or killed. When criminal charges are filed, they can apply to forcibly relocate the child without parental consent. For children whose cries for help fall on deaf ears among family, and who haven't yet been injured badly enough to leave permanent damage, being rescued is difficult.
Cracks in the system
Between 2008 and 2011, media reported more than 300 cases of family child abuse across the country, 160 of which involved the death of the child.
However, analysts say these are just the tip of the iceberg, and most go unreported.
This appears to be the case for 11-year-old Zhang Qing (pseudonym) from rural Beijing. Neighbors say that she lives with her family in a garage and has been forbidden to go to school or play with other children. They say she is constantly beaten by her mother and is often told to stand in front of the garage for hours as a punishment. Neighbors have reported that they often saw her rummaging through trash cans at night looking for food.
"We tried to reach out to her family but the mother is not cooperating. We want to relocate her but her injury, by law, is not severe enough to build up a criminal case," Shen Jiaying, a social worker from the Children's Hope Foundation, an NGO aimed at helping impoverished and abused children, told the Global Times.
Even if Zhang could be relocated, it would be hard to find her a new place to live.
"Orphanages usually don't admit abused children because, technically speaking, their parents are still alive and available. There is no government-sponsored shelter for them, which leaves few options," said Shen.
"It's part of Chinese culture not to meddle in other families' business. Sadly, this makes crimes within families more likely," said Zhang Xuemei.
On the same day Xinhua reported Yang's case, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs announced on Monday it will initiate a pilot program to build community children's service centers in several provinces. These centers will provide temporary care, psychological counseling and family intervention.
"I am happy to hear the news," said Shen, "Fighting to protect children from abusive parents in China is the same war against poverty, ignorance and cruelty. It's a war we cannot win without the support of the government and society."