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Lawyers Offer Legal Assistance to Juveniles

Located on the top floor of a nondescript building in a quiet block in the Fengtai District of Beijing, the Zhicheng Law Office has made itself known for its Beijing Juvenile Legal Aid and Research Center.


The office, set up in August 1999, provides legal assistance to juveniles for free and is the first in the country to get approval from legal authorities to provide such service.


Over the past two and half years, the center has worked on 3,693 cases dealing with the infringement of juvenile interests.


Qiu Pei, a laid-off woman from Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, won a lawsuit on her son's inheritance rights in April with the help of Zhicheng.


Qiu said she and her eight-year-old son owe many thanks to the law office, whose name means "utmost sincerity."


Qiu's former husband Guan Linde, whom she divorced seven years ago, died of cancer last year and left her son a legacy worth some 100 million yuan (over US$12 million), but her son did not receive it because of the intervention of Guan's brother.


Qiu went to court, pleading the rights of her son. The lawsuit went on for over one year and her efforts turned out to be fruitless though she hired four lawyers and paid them more than 10,000 yuan (over US$1,200).


Qiu turned to Zhicheng this March and Zhang Xuemei, a 27-year-old lawyer with the office, was assigned to deal with the case.


"I knew nothing about the law, but they did everything they could to help me," Qiu said. "Without their help, I wouldn't even know what proof I needed to collect."


Director Tong Lihua of the Zhicheng Law Office said that their work for juvenile interests has been supported by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), the largest youth organization in China, which in 1998 initiated a program calling for society's and the government's awareness in safeguarding juvenile interests and rights.


"Our close cooperation with CYLC boosted our efficiency and brought more young people under the shelter of this service," Tong said.


However, Tong said more people and organizations needed to be concerned about young peoples' interests and rights.


"If there had been such a service in Chengdu, it wouldn't have been necessary for our lawyer to go there for the case," he said.


A coordinating network providing legal assistance to young people was launched in 1999 on the proposal of the Zhicheng Law Office. Over 120 lawyers from 24 cities have joined the network, most of whom are under 35 years old.


"But we need more professionals to join, as many new problems concerning juvenile rights will emerge with the development of society," Tong said.


Currently, a special service for the protection of juvenile interests and rights is being established in Tianjin, a port municipality in north China, in Fuzhou, capital of east China's Fujian Province, and in Shaanxi Province.


Zhang Xiaoliang, an official with CYLC said CYLC will promote the service in more provincial capitals and other major cities this year and further expand it nationwide in coming years.


Zhang said he hopes his organization can do more to protect juveniles' interests and rights.


(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2003)

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