Parents lose custody after 'renting out' girls as pickpockets in the city

Two sets of parents lose guardianship of their daughters after they "rented out" the girls to be pickpockets in Shanghai. 

Two sets of parents in central China's Hunan Province who "rented out" their young daughters to work as pickpockets in Shanghai have lost custody, Qingpu prosecutors said yesterday.

A 6-year-old girl surnamed Wang and a 9-year-old surnamed He stole nine mobile phones at retail malls, roadside stores and restaurants in the city’s suburban Qingpu District from September to November last year.

Prosecutors cited locals as saying the girls came from Hunan’s Daoxian County, where sending children to work with a gang of thieves — referred to as “renting” them out — was common and had become a money-making industry.

It is estimated that between September 2015 and December last year, Shanghai police caught 120 Daoxian women on suspicion of theft. Many used child pickpockets, “renting” them for more than 50,000 yuan (US$7,635) a year from parents back in Daoxian, prosecutors were told.

“The two girls’ parents rented them to a gang of thieves led by Sui Meixiu,” said prosecutor Gao Bing. However, details were unclear as the parents had “zipped their lips.”

After the gang was busted, Sui and two accomplices were jailed from one to seven years while two girls were sent back to their hometowns, prosecutors said.

On July 31, Qingpu prosecutors wrote to the Daoxian government, suggesting its civil affairs authority sue the parents over custody.

On December 6, the Daoxian county court stripped the parents of their guardianship and ruled that the grandparents take care of the two girls.

It was revealed that He’s father is serving a four-year jail term and her mother had been caught thrice for theft but escaped detention because she was pregnant or nursing a baby. 

Wang’s father, who was keeping another girlfriend, left her unattended, while her mother was a member of Sui’s gang. She is currently out on bail awaiting trial. 

“The parents allowed and abetted their children to commit crimes, which severely hurt their physical and mental health and infringed their rights,” the court said.

Prosecutors said that it was the country’s first case where a procuratorate from one place (in this instance Shanghai) had urged authorities from another part of the country (Daoxian) to take action against incompetent parents over guardianship and reached a success.

And, it was not an easy case. 

“In Wang’s case, it took a long time to figure out who was her genuine mother as everybody lied about it,” Gao said.

Another headache was over what to do with Wang and He.

They were first put in Xinchun School in Jiading District, where the underage with minor crimes receive counseling and education. Then they were sent to Daoxian’s welfare facility.

“They did not settle in one place, which was not good for them to correct their wrong behavior,” Gao said. 

“Also, it meant that only their hometown authorities, not ours, were able to apply to strip their parents’ guardianship. What we could do was just make the suggestion.”

According to the Supreme People’s Court, minors’ relatives, neighborhood officials, their parents’ employers, civil affairs departments, women’s federations, schools and other involved groups can apply to end the guardianship of incompetent parents.

Both sets of parents can apply to the court to regain guardianship over their daughters from three months to one year after the ruling. 

But they have to provide evidence to prove they are capable of taking care of the children and have the approval of the girls and the girls’ grandparents.

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