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Government sues parents to get kids back to school

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A local government in the southwestern province of Yunnan claimed a win when three children in a remote village resumed attending school after authorities sued their parents. In March, five students aged from ten to 15 dropped out of school. For months, teachers and authorities tried to persuade the five families to send their children back to class, but without success. On November 3, the Lajing Township (啦井镇) government in Lanping Bai and Pumi Autonomous County, one of the poorest counties in the nation, took legal action against the families.

It's the first case in the province of a government suing its citizens over compulsory education, online media platform Red Star News reported. Ren Xinghui, a lawyer specializing in education law, told Sixth Tone that under the current system, the legal basis of such litigation is dubious.

The case opened on November 24 in a village courtroom and soon attracted media attention from around China. Authorities and parents were able to reach an agreement through mediation, setting a deadline of December 1 for the children's return to school. Three of the five children have now returned to class, the township's deputy mayor, Li Zhifen, told Red Star News, while the other two are working in another city. Their parents have promised the two children will return to school next semester.

In China, it is mandatory for children to attend primary and middle school. The nine-year compulsory education period stretches from roughly age six to 15, and tuition for public schools is free for all students. In areas with widespread poverty like Lajing Township, students also receive government stipends to support their studies.

Yet seven percent of students across the country will drop out before graduating from middle school according to a 2016 study by the Ministry of Education. In rural Yunnan, economic pressures and a culture of marrying and working young contribute to the dropout rate.

"A kid working in the city can bring back 20,000 yuan [US$3,000] a year," an official at a county-level education bureau in Yunnan told local media in 2014, explaining the local attitudes. "By the time he finishes school, all the good girls would be married, and it'd be hard for him to find a wife."

A view over Lajing
A view over Lajing

While Chinese laws say parents must honor their children's right to schooling, there are no clear penalties for noncompliance. The Compulsory Education Law, implemented in 1986, gives county and township governments the right to "criticize and educate" parents or guardians, as well as order them to set a deadline for a given students' return to school. But it does not stipulate penalties.

"Current laws put the primary responsibility on public organizations such as governments and schools," explained Ren, the legal expert. "Parents also have responsibilities, but they're not compelled to fulfill them."

In Lajing, the township government has listed litigation as the fourth and final step for ensuring compulsory education — following "promotion, rectification, and administrative punishments" such as fines. But Ren said that though the local government has good intentions, such litigation lacks a legal basis, as it is an "innovation" that does not fall under civil or administrative law or provisions for pilot programs in the public interest.

In a similar case in 2007, two county governments in Xinjiang sued the parents of 29 children because they quit school in favor of working on farms.

In September, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued a notice stating that parents who don't rectify their behavior could receive court orders, and in serious cases be subject to criminal charges. However, according to Ren, the notice is not enough to justify court involvement in such matters.

Ren said that more questions should be asked in cases like this, such as whether the families involved are struggling to send children to school because of the travel distance or boarding expenses. "Even if we solve the [legal] problem of litigation in such cases, it could have a negative impact by putting heavier burdens on families," Ren said.

"Reasons for dropping out are complex," said Wei Jiayu, the secretary-general of New Citizen Project, an NGO dedicated to the welfare of migrant children. "In rural areas, whether children like to go to school largely depends on their teachers' attitudes toward them."

In an interview with local media in late November, deputy county chief Li Yihong said that the dropout rates in Lanping County are now 0.09 percent and 0.87 percent for primary and secondary schools, respectively — far lower than national averages.

Editor's note: This article by author Wang Yiwei was originally published on national media outlet Sixth Tone. It is republished here with permission.

Top image: OurFreeSky
Second image: Yunnan government

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If dropping out of school means securing a future following family tradition and economy whilst escaping a dead end educational system under immense pressure then I don't blame them. Suing the family is wrong and will cause financial burden now and potential hardships for the future. As if the rural dwellers don't have enough problems. Like the article says, some teachers couldn't care less. This combined with huge distances some must travel/walk, boarding expenses, and extremely low and dated teaching standards/materials in their minds doesn't make it feasible to continue where there is no hope. Here, money comes first for survival or any sort of decent prospect for the future and they are kind of left alone to cope in this matter. Surely it should be their own choice under such circumstances.

The children need to go to school. Otherwise the medival cycle of having more children to work to support themselves and the farm continues. Their situation is dire no doubt, but if their children grow up without any schooling, the next generation is left with zero hope and left in the same dire situation. In addition, the children want to be in school. I saw a documentary about poor kids in Vietnam, where even subsidized govt schools still require some tuition. It was heart breaking how the kids had to earn tuition money on the side and go to school, but the kids tried their hardest to scrape enough tuition funds together, because school was some hope in their poverty stricken lives. Sadly, in one case, the elder sister who was good at school and earning high marks gave up her slot to her younger brother, since they had only gathered enough money for one tuition slot.

Education is an exercise in ticking boxes and at higher levels some so called teachers even get the students to do their box ticking for them.

There are economic issues concerning education in China for very poor communities, which obviously need a bigger share of the economic pie than they are getting. Yet China's 'socialist market economy' is increasing the overall level of economic resources within China.
What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is you fail to see the individual tree because you're transfixed by the wood. Look closer and see the rotting undergrowth.

@nnoble: don't follow - who or what is rotting? I can think of various candidates, but I'm not sure which one you're talking about.

I don't get this part (or I probably do, but disagree wholeheartedly):

"an official at a county-level education bureau in Yunnan told local media in 2014, explaining the local attitudes. "By the time he finishes school, all the good girls would be married, and it'd be hard for him to find a wife.""

Is (was) this "official" saying that if a boy takes his compulsory education to the end and finishes school at 15-or-so old, all good girls are married by then?

Hello?

"No marriage may be contracted before the man has reached 22 years of age and the woman 20 years of age."

Perhaps the schools should have more classes about the laws of China, so at least the future generations wouldn't need to be sued to take their kids to school.

@Janjal, good point about 15 years old & marriage. What about these (combined) points:

"while the other two are working in another city. Their parents have promised the two children will return to school next semester."

"A kid working in the city can bring back 20,000 yuan [US$3,000] a year," an official at a county-level education bureau in Yunnan told local media in 2014"

So local officials are condoning children working illegally underage? First quote is more valid as it refers directly to this case! They know two of the kids are working illegally & havent dome anything about it except get "promises" from the parents that they'll send them back to school "next semester"!

Does the village have its own school? Do the children have a long distance to get to school?

@JanJal yeah I didn't really understand that point either!
@Hotwater in the guys defence, I think he was explaining why it happens rather than condoning it. Not quite the same thing.

Compulsory education can only work if it is free,

And why shouldn't it be? Who wants to pay to be compelled?

But what is free?

Is it free, if it is funded by tax payers? Or state-owned tobacco sales?

Most foreigners in China I expect to break above the 4800 RMB monthly income limit, and therefore be interested to know that their tax contributions provide (among other things) education to Chinese youth.

But Chinese not so much. Many do not earn over 3500 RMB a month, and especially not the typical villagers and parents in locales where children drop out of compulsory education.

I argue that however little people earn, they should have to provide even a marginal tax contribution to raise awareness about efficient spending of those contributions.

Then again, that may still not be in best interest of the Chinese state.

i argure that if the poorest paid 10% tax it would not make a difference. but if 1%ers paid 1% more tax, then everyone could get better health care, schooling and environment,

@Dazzer: I don't mean the difference being in significantly bigger tax revenue, but the impact for individual families when they recognize that they have to pay their children's education and other state costs (via taxes) out of their very little income anyway, so why not use it..

For a person that makes, for example, a mere 100 RMB a month, 1 RMB or 1% tax taken out would go towards activating them to care how that 1 RMB gets used.

If the local government builds a new school house, they'd feel that they contributed to finance it and that they should use it.

And on the note of 1%ers, if they would be made to pay 1% more tax, the question is whether they would pay it or move to a tax haven somewhere else. Worst case scenario is that instead of them paying 1% more, they would be paying zero.

It is (or should be) a fine balance.

research suggests they most wont upsticks to a tax haven. some will like branson but they have probably done it already. by the time most wealthy get there, they are middle aged, have kids in school, connections with an area. they dont even move state, or even city. as for the poor caring where the tax goes, many are too ignorant of how governmt works anyhow. then there are some who just dont give a s41t, except that it is gone. most poor are disenfranchise by system, hence the recent populist waves

"as for the poor caring where the tax goes, many are too ignorant of how governmt works anyhow"

Agreed, but I''d say that it is partly a chicken and egg problem. For better or worse, it is money that makes the world go around, and money can just as well stop it going around. Populism could be one realization of it stop going around.

I believe that in China more than anywhere this nature of money (or exchange of goods in wider context) should be utilized to mobilize the interest of the common people for their common causes.

But it may still be too early for the Chinese government to allow that. Too many skeletons still in open.

also society can be compartmentalized. leading to thinking of why waste energy thinking aobut things that you have not control over. a bit like karma but also a bit of picking battles you can influence. almost confuscian idea of knowing ones place and sticking to it

@JanJal: Why "in China more than anywhere"?

@alienew: "Why "in China more than anywhere"?"

Because political system in China is naturally demotivating people from taking part in public interests and discussions for political reasons. They are also arguably quite restricted from pursuing the same goals for religious or spiritual reasons.

Since Deng, Chinese are however allowed and even urged to acquire financial wealth and prosperity. Social participation and activation of the public should therefore piggyback on money here.

The poor shouldn't have to pay taxes to finance the system, but to activate themselves to follow up on those tax contributions.

Specifically on OP, this means motivating to send your children to school, and to certain degree also making you interested to know whether your neighbour does that. And that once they do attend the school, they get the money's worth.of education.

@JanJal: OK, but the important thing here is to give the kids of the poor an even break, which is hard to do when the kids of the rich have...(anybody can complete this sentence).
Not so different from the global situation, either as a whole or when cut up nationally..

@aliennew: "the important thing here is to give the kids of the poor an even break, which is hard to do when the kids of the rich have"

Naturally so. My argument is that the poor should have to pay taxes too (even if very marginal amounts), so that they would learn to ask for better services in exchange for that, and this would work towards breaks their kids get. They would learn to ask for them.

The current 3500 RMB tax break in monthly income, defined in national level, means huge number of rural residents never having to pay income taxes, and I would like to see the tax system reformed so that every person feels contributing to the common good, and in that everyone would be on the same line.

Then people in rural Yunnan and elsewhere could slowly learn to ask for same services as those in Kunming or Shanghai, since they would be contributing to the system on same terms..

Perhaps the money just isn't there, but at least more of the little there is would be directed to be spent properly.

right wing dogma, every civilised country has a tax threshold before people pay tax.. even if poor pay tax it. leaves it open to the argument that if the peasants cant expect the same as shanghai because they dont pay shanghai taxes. poor paying taxes does not mean they will demand better services, just because you a middle class educated person would, huge assumption there, just more dogma. as already said, poor are often ignorant as to h;ow govermwent works

@JanJal: Maybe the state doesn't demand taxes from them because they don't want to hear more complaints from them?

@alienew: "Maybe the state doesn't demand taxes from them because they don't want to hear more complaints from them?"

Yes, that's the big question, and I think the only question.

@Dazzer: "poor paying taxes does not mean they will demand better services, just because you a middle class educated person would [...] poor are often ignorant as to h;ow govermwent works"

The only real question in my opinion is, do we (or they) want the poor to learn to ask for better services or not, and do we want the poor to join us in the educated middle class or not.

If we do not, then the discussion is moot.

But if we do (and I obvously think we should), then for the reasons I mentioned earlier in this thread, using finances and taxation as vehicle for that learning process should make sense in China - but not in many other countries, because they should have better methods at their disposal.

Yes, the imporevished are often ignorant, but the whole idea is to get that slowly changed.

Farmers in Europe used to be quite ignorant too, but then came development and finally EU and now they are buried in paperwork for taxes and subsidies while robots feed and milk the cows.

It will not happen overnight, but it has to start from somewhere.

You can send someone to tell the poor how the government works or how they should proceed to acquire better services, but they know their place and if they think they are OK just the way they are, they won't bother with any of that once this storyteller leaves, and nothing changes.

But if they are told that they will have less money to buy cigarettes or alcohol, not to mention paying their children's education, because state will now collect some of it as taxes, they will learn to ask why the state does that and what do they get in return.

But I repeat that the big question in China is, whether the state wants that or not.

@Janjal, your argument contains many assumptions and additional requirements (story tellers etc). If we cannot provide the additional resources your suggested strategy would require and you cannot get China's rural poor to demand answers; again we have a moot point.
Comparing EU farmers, who are business owners who learn to work the system for profit with the rural poor, Is perhaps a case of chalk and cheese.

@tigertiger: "many assumptions and additional requirements (story tellers etc)"

Well the storyteller reference was for a method which I think will not work, and why incentives such as taxation is more effective.

"If we cannot provide the additional resources"

That's exactly the reason why the poor rural residents must learn to ask for better services themselves. The state should cut services from better privileged city dwellers if that's what it takes (by reallocating its own funding and directing private funding through tax incentives) - the resources are there alright, but they are spread unevenly.

This part is actually already reflected in Chinese leaders' most recent public commentary. According to them, Deng said that while wealth is glorious, he never meant the whole country to get wealthy at once. Only few would get rich first, and according to current leaders, it is about time to spread that wealth to the whole nation.

If you simply provide funding to the rural regions, it will accumulate in the hands of those who want it most. That's why the knowledge of availability of such funds and the services they create must be spread to the whole population and not select few individuals.

"Comparing EU farmers, who are business owners who learn to work the system for profit with the rural poor, Is perhaps a case of chalk and cheese"

I don't necessarily agree that they are so different in this view, but even if they are, chalk can learn be better chalk and cheese can learn to be better cheese while both retain their inherently different characteristics.

I am not even claiming that they should use the same methods - that's specifically why Chinese poor must learn through methods that are available to them. They don't have political freedoms, so use money.

So we must make them learn.

You can take a horse to water, but a pencil has to be lead.

give up tiger, she will refuse to see. probably reads brietbart

I fail to see what exactly you guys disagree with - is it the fact that providing to the poor will be away from your own middle class, or do you have a better idea how to make the poor raise up, or do you not think that they should be let to do it at all?

What is it...

reality check is what it is. nice ideas but get real

I believe that I have checked into more reality in the rural Yunnan than most Kunming expats will in their life time.

Probably more than the local social workers too Jan...

@vicar: Why do you say that?

JanJal, it is precisely money that the poor do not have.

alienew....what's new?

@alienew: "it is precisely money that the poor do not have."

And that is why even 1% taxation of the little they have would have big impact on their awareness of their rights and privileges. In context of OP, it would tell them that they pay for even the limited resources they get, and it would be in their best interest to actually use them.

For example in mountains in Changning, Baoshan, the local government subsidizes roomy tents to families who live in dangerous mudbrick houses or need more space for children but are not financially capable to build bigger and better houses.

But there is psychological barrier to accept such "gifts".

Some go to great lengths to find, borrow and steal the money rather that accept services for free. Some rather leave their children behind and go earn the money themselves from coast. Some rather die quietly in their homes than early enough access even the limited medical services that they are entitled to.

I have personally witnessed all of that within last year.

The state is going to increase financial reach to rural regions in coming years, and as Vicar hinted, trusting the reach-out to public service providers will only go half way. The poor themselves must be activated to ask and accept those services.

there you go again, asume asume asume.and then making leaps about causality, very patronizing.

@Dazzer: "you go again, asume asume "

Is it assuming if I have seen it with my own eyes?

assumption1- even 1% taxation of the little they have would have big impact on their awareness of their rights and privileges.
assumtion2 - it would tell them that they pay for even the limited resources they get, and it would be in their best interest to actually use them.
assumti9on3 – there is a connection between education and But there is psychological barrier to accept such "gifts". "" assumes they see staturtory education as gift

assumption4 as to reasons why they work in the big city. Some rather leave their children behind and go earn the money themselves from coast. Some rather die quietly in their homes than early enough access even the limited medical services that they are entitled to.''
assumption 5. this is achievable. The poor themselves must be activated to ask and accept those services.

Alright, if you go that way then everything is assuming. Assumptions is what made our ancestors come down from trees and cross a river and a mountain range. You assume quite a bit already when you go to sleep at night.

I am not assuming anything that didn't happen already. China already had a peasant revolution that was supposed to bring prosperity to all.

I am not asking for another revolution, but I am asking for that same spark. I do admit assuming that the Chinese state can contain such spark better this time.

Quite simply, Janjals perception and solution of the issue is guided, factually based and positive, whilst Dazzer's is negative and pointless (again). Please stop wasting e-ink. Whoever came up with your solution of 1%ers paying more tax resembles something in this winter weather which occasionally floats down from the clouds....bbrrrr!

Not necessarily to disagree with JanJal. Vicar is right that it's nearly impossible to make the 1% socially responsible - anyway, that's my reading of his comment.

it and is nearly impossible to make the poor demand accountability because they now pay 1% tax

How about this: tax breaks to those who keep their kids in school? Seems to me this might interest those with no cash more than requirements to pay for schools that, for one reason or another, their kids are not attending.

Or even cash incentives? I know of a small charity that provides parents with such. Evidence exists that this works.
Fact is, there are sometimes small hidden costs in the 'free' elementary and middle school state education, which seem trivial unless you're really poor. Some people are really poor.

cash incentives would work for poor parents, and it is not as if this incentive systme could be abused by local officials, now is it? but i like the way your thingking

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