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Chinese Families Charged With Child Abuse

By World Journal
20 May 2002

By Justin Yu

Parents in three Chinese families in New York City have been recently reported by school teachers for child abuse because of their use of physical punishment when disciplining their children.

The three recent cases occurred in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively, and some of the parents are facing criminal charges and are required to report to the Family Court. Some of them are separated from their children, who have been placed in foster homes, and some are facing possible deportation.

Physical punishment is a common practice of child discipline in Chinese culture, which is evident in a Chinese saying, "one will not succeed without a spanking." However, the seemingly common practice of Chinese parents of using physical punishment on the their children is considered an abusive behavior under the U.S. child protection law.

There are three children in the Xia family in Queens, from age six to eight. The father travels frequently to China for business and the mother is a professional translator. One day the eight-year-old son refused to do his homework and was beaten on the arm by his mother with a chicken-feather duster, leaving a red mark on the arm. The next day, the son did not return home after school. The mother went to school to look for him, only to find out that her child has been taken away by the Administration for Children Services (ACS) to a foster home.

Xia was told by school officials that ACS will investigate whether she was involved in child abuse. As soon as she got home, the police came and removed her six- and seven-year-old children from her house. Though speaking fluent English, Xia was warned that she would be arrested if she resisted. The two children cried hysterically as they were taken away and were handed over to social workers at ACS, who later transferred them to foster homes. Xia was immediately arrested after police questioning and detained for a few days until her lawyer bailed her out.

Xia, who has been living in the United States for years, said she has been separated from her three children for weeks, and that she has been exhausted from trips to the Family Court, calling the government agencies "inhumane" for breaking up her family without any investigation.

Xia’s husband, who was in China, immediately returned to the United States upon learning of the incident to assist his wife with the family legal dispute. He said the school was "making a big fuss over a trivial matter".

In another case in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, a woman, surnamed Lee, asked her daughter, a sixth grader, to go grocery shopping and realized two hours later upon her daughter’s return that she had been hanging out with friends. Lee got upset and hit her daughter with a broom, causing scars on her legs. At her classmates’ encouragement, the daughter reported the incident to her teacher, resulting in the immediate arrest of her mother by the ACS and the police.

Separated from her daughter by the ACS, Lee has not seen her for six months and has been financially burdened by legal fees.

Meanwhile, a father in Manhattan’s west side, surnamed Huang, slapped his son for his misbehavior at home and left a five-finger mark on his son’s face. After being notified by the son’s teacher the next day, the ACS immediately removed the child from his father and placed him in a foster home while waiting for further police investigation. Huang’s daughter, however, was not removed because she was at her grandfather’s home in Brooklyn when the police officers came to remove the son.

Huang, who was bailed out by his lawyer after a short detention, is still under police investigation. He is in the process of applying for his permanent residency and may face criminal charges and Family Court charges. If found guilty, Huang could be separated from his children, denied a green card, and face possible deportation.

Under the U.S. law, a teacher, social worker, or doctor who learns of potential child abuse must report it to the concerning government agencies and might face punishment if he or she fails to do so. Under such child protection law, many overly enthusiastic teachers, social workers, ACS officials and prosecutors end up accusing Chinese American families of child abuse although certain physical punishment is considered common practice in the Chinese community, resulting in immense psychological effects on the children and their parents.

Translated from Chinese by Larry Tung

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