Since the abolition of custody and repatriation (收容遣送) repatriation measures have lost their coercive nature, and become voluntary (even though those vagrants deemed to lack civil capacity are still sheltered coercively). Custody and repatriation centres have been replaced by relief centres (救助管理站). At the moment 1.376 such centres exist in China, 118 of which receive juvenile vagrants.
While adult vagrants can choose whether to request aid or not, the situation is different in the case of juvenile vagrants.
Most juvenile vagrants do not enjoy full civil capacity.
The General Principles of Civil Law set full legal capacity at the age of 18. Emancipation is available in China, so a 16 years old enjoys full legal capacity if his “main source of income is his own labour“. Persons between ages 10 and 16 have limited civil capacity, and those under age 10 have no civil capacity. It follows that relief measures cannot be asked by vagrants themselves, but by their parents or guardians.
Finding the parents of a child who has been sold into begging it’s far from easy – who can then ask the adoption of relief measures? In this and similar cases temporary guardianship belongs to the relief centre. Relief can in practice be asked also by those who bring children to relief centres. The rationale of this measure is clearly protecting children from all forms of exploitation. But, ironically, its targets don’t have the legal capacity to apply for it.
Existing provisions on juvenile vagrants stem among others from the 2003 Measures for Administration of Relief of Destitute Vagrants and Beggars in Cities. The Measures were passed two months after the notorious Sun Zhigang case. In the summer of 2003 the highest priority was abolishing the custody and repatriation system, so perhaps the situation of juvenile vagrants received less attention. However, between 2004 and 2009 almost a million (815.000) juveniles were sheltered, signalling that child abduction, vagrancy etc. are serious problems.
A delegate to the Political Consultative Conference, Pu Cunxin, last year filed a motion asking that relief on juvenile vagrants be adopted coercively and newborns’ DNA be sampled.