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China: Why Re-Education Camps Have No Place In A Modern Nation

Ren Jianyu was sentenced to two years of labor camp for tweeting “subversive content”
Ren Jianyu was sentenced to two years of labor camp for tweeting “subversive content”
Sun Le


BEIJING - Just like the former extrajudicial “Custody and Repatriation” procedure for moving beggars and homeless people out of Chinese cities, the Re-education Through Labor (RTL) camp system has long been criticized.

There is now a general consensus that the unjustified administrative procedures of the labor camp system should be reformed. After years of public debate, finally a signal of reform has been ushered in at the governmental level.

Last week, China’s State Council published a white paper on judicial reform. Jiang Wei, who heads the Central Judicial System Reform Leading Group Office, stated that a consensus had been reached and that the relevant administrative departments were studying a reform.

On the day following this announcement, Ren Jianyu’s appeal hearing took place. Ren is a 25-year-old college graduate who was sent to a labor camp for two years for forwarding “subversive content” on Sina Weibo – China’s Twitter-like micro blogging site.

Can the result of Ren’s appeal push forward reform of China’s labor camp system? There could be a parallel with the case of Sun Zhigang, a migrant worker who was wrongly detained, and subsequently died in detention due to savage beating. That case helped abolish of the Custody and Repatriation system.

The RTL system was created in the 1950s as a form of administrative punishment. It’s mainly used to detain people who have committed minor offenses for which criminal penalties are not justified. The concerned party is forced into re-education with the purpose of maintaining social order.

The RTL is the product of a special historical period, and at that time, it may indeed have played an important role in maintaining social order. However, since it was first implemented, the application of administrative detention has been expanding constantly. In certain cases, people can be sent to labor camps for as long as three years or even four years, without due judicial process or a trial. The evolution of this detention system has created a “rule of man” that it is totally contrary to the spirit of the rule of law. The rationality of its existence and its legitimacy have long been questioned.

Constitution violated

The right to freedom is a basic right granted to all citizens by the Constitution. Since the judicial reform white paper raised the issue of strengthening the legal protection of human rights, the RTL -- which violates the Constitution, the Legislation Law and the Administration Punishment Law -- should be repealed. This will then establish the absolute authority of the judicial system, which guarantees Chinese citizens the inalienable right to freedom.

As for minor criminal acts, they can be incorporated into the jurisdiction of the Criminal Code and the Public Security Administration Punishment Law. The existing labor camp system often imposes a higher punishment than certain criminal penalties. For minors who have committed small offenses, a “mild community cure” can be applied. This will have a disciplinary education purpose while at the same time reducing the cost to society. We should start teaching the concepts of giving back and of public service to society, as well as nurturing the spirit of modern citizenship.

What is to be noted in particular is that the so-called “population of vexatious visits and litigations” as well as dissidents with “heterogeneity or opposition” who differentiate themselves from mainstream ideology, normal beliefs and normal behavior, are to be judged on their acts. Whether or not they have committed an offense should be decided strictly on the grounds of the facts.

If arbitration is necessary, it should be settled by a judicial settlement. If it can be solved by social reconciliation then it should be. The simplified application of RTL to “maintain stability” is to be avoided.

Our society is making progress, so the social governance should advance along with the times. We hope that the government will take this opportunity to make a historical step forward. It should have the courage to abolish the labor camp system and root out all extrajudicial system that still remains in Chinese society.

The establishment of the rule of law lies in establishing the authority of justice, and incorporating all those who have been deprived of their freedom under the scope of the judiciary.

Only two months ago, Tang Hui, a mother whose teenage daughter was forced into prostitution, was sent to re-education camp because her local authority considered her “vexatious visits and litigations” as unacceptable behavior. Tang Hui has finally been released, thanks to days of Chinese netizens’ protests and solidarity.

Ren Jianyu, on the other hand, is still imprisoned in a labor camp. We hope justice will be done sooner rather than later.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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