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UPDATED: February 14, 2014 NO. 43, OCTOBER 24, 2013
Protection From Guardians
Recent cases involving abusive households highlight urgent need for improved legal protection of minors
By Li Li

LIFE OF REGRET: Le Yan, whose young daughters starved to death in June after being left unattended at home for weeks, receives a sentence of life imprisonment on September 18 (CFP)

Two girls, aged 1 and 2, were found dead in an apartment in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on June 21. According to the forensic report, they died of dehydration and starvation. The report also stated that, based on the condition of the bodies, the girls had been dead for more than two weeks before they were found.

On September 18, a court in Nanjing sentenced Le Yan, the 21-year-old mother of the girls, to life in prison for intentional homicide after she left her daughters unattended.

Le told the judge that she locked her daughters inside the bedroom of her apartment on the fifth floor with some bread, cake and a bottle of water when she left home in late April. Then she went to places close by to take narcotics.

According to the court, it was only when the police detained Le the same day the children's bodies were discovered that she finally learnt of their passing.

Child neglect

Le had lived with Li Wenbin, the biological father of her younger daughter. However, in February, Li was sentenced to a six-month prison term for providing a venue for drug abuse. Li and Le are not married.

In light of the results of evaluations on Le's mental health status, she suffers from mental disorders brought on by taking psychoactive substances, but she still has full criminal liability.

Le, who was herself born out of wedlock and raised by her grandparents, ran away from home at the age of 16, becoming addicted to narcotics later. At one time she supported herself by working at nightclubs. She doesn't know who the father of her older daughter is.

The last person to hear the cries of the two children was 82-year-old Wang Guanghong, the great-grandmother of Le's younger daughter, who visited the children to feed them on May 17. Unable to open the apartment door without a key, Wang heard the pleas for food from the elder girl. However, later that day, Le showed up at Wang's home and assured her that she was going home to feed her children.

As the media dug deeper into Le's actions, people sympathetic to Le's daughters have become increasingly upset after hearing evidence that the tragedy could have been avoided if there was a substitute care system.

The local police station and community committee had been aware of Le's neglect for a long time before the death of the two girls. Le's elder child ran out to beg for food twice, in March and April, after Le left home—something she would do for days at a time.

Starting March 4, the community committee gave Le a weekly subsistence allowance, food and free cleaning service. A police officer was also put in charge of checking on the children's condition when he was able to find Le. Neighbors would deliver food to the girls when the door had not been locked.

After 78-year-old Ding Chunxiu, another of the younger daughter's great-grandmothers, found that the girls could starve to death as they were sometimes locked inside the apartment for days, she begged the head of the community committee to send the girls to an orphanage. The orphanage rejected her request on the ground that they were not orphans.

Hollow regulations

The tragic death of two young girls as a result of parental neglect shocked the country and sparked calls for the establishment of more reliable procedures to remove children from abusive households.

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