Child marriage dating back 20 years comes to the public’s attention

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Ma Panyan, an unfortunate girl born in the countryside of Chongqing, southwestern China, was forced to get married at a surprisingly early age due to family pressure. Around 20 years ago, Panyan witnessed the death of her father when her mentally ill mother knocked him down with a hoe. Afterwards her mother ran away from home, forcing Panyan and her two sisters to depend on her uncle, Ma Zhengsong. In 2000 Panyan’s uncle arranged for her to get married with Chen Xuesheng, a man 17 years her senior, after which she gave birth to their first child at the age of 14. At 19 years old, an age when most other girls are contemplating university options, Panyan was already the mother of two children.

Panyan’s story is just one of many cases of child marriage to take place in China, especially in remote rural areas. For years Panyan tried to escape from Chen’s family, finally managing to get divorced in June 2016. She then put forward various legal claims, but the local government commissions turned down most of her requests, including a punishment for her former husband and her uncle. Having conducted some investigation, the government asserted that there was not enough evidence to fully prove that she was raped by Chen before the age of 14. Additionally, Panyan’s uncle was living in poverty and did not bear the obligation to bring her up, therefore he was not guilty according to law. But since Panyan was not yet of legal marital age at the time of the marriage registration and since the procedure was handled in the couple’s absence, the official who was responsible for their marriage registration has been given a serious warning sanction by the Party.

Gao Fuqiang, an editor working in Beijing, commented at length on the case on Weibo. Among other things he claimed: “nevertheless, no matter how much we pity Panyan’s misfortune, now matter how firmly we believe that what she said is true and no matter how much we punish local government officials for their lack of action regarding her case, we must verify the criminal offenses asserted by Panyan based on strict legal provisions and incontrovertible proofs”.