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Fines, Jailing of Parents Fail to Get Dropouts Back to School

Fines and even imprisonment have failed to persuade parents to get their teenage children back to school in a northeastern town as poorer parents claimed school fees were too expensive despite tuition fee exemptions for elementary and high school students.

The government of Gaojiadian Town, Xifeng County in Liaoning Province, fined the parents of 27 dropouts sums ranging from 200 yuan (US$24) to 500 yuan (US$60), and three parents were jailed for a week for failing to pay, said Meng Xiaochen, magistrate of the town.

Gaojiadian is one of the poorest towns in the county, and many children have dropped out of school in recent years, according to the township educational authorities.

To reverse the trend, the township government imposed fines late last year in an attempt to force parents to bring children back to school, Meng said.

China's law on nine-year compulsory education requires local governments to ensure every child's right to compulsory and legally free education.

Despite charging no tuition, Chinese elementary and high schools are entitled to charge for incidentals that are sometimes beyond the financial abilities of some families.

The motivation for dropping out was "complicated", Zheng Guiqiu, deputy magistrate in charge of education, said, giving no details. But he added that it was seldom that parents opposed schooling for their children.

Ma Qinglin, a poor parent, said, "Every parent wishes to have a successful child. My child was not good at study and was looked down upon by teachers." Teachers barred his child from taking examinations, fearing his poor performance would pull down the class results average, a key index assessing teacher performance. Ma's child lost confidence and was reluctant to return to school.

Ma, with other parents Liu Xinglong and Ma Qingyuan, were jailed for seven days because they failed to pay fines, said Li Hong, the judge of the court of Xifeng County. The township government appealed to the court, asking for a mandatory execution of fines imposed on the parents of 27 students.

The three released parents had their fines increased to 1,000 yuan (US$120) in the maximum case, covering the government fines and additional judicial fines and administration fees, according to the judge.

Meng, the magistrate, said fines and imprisonment were not the ultimate goal, but were imposed according to the law to press parents to return their children to school. But Zheng, deputy magistrate, and Wu Guomin, an assistant justice official handing the cases, admitted that results were disappointing, "Very few kids have gone back to school. That produced little effect."

Educational experts said fines, a harsh punishment on poor families, proved unsuccessful in resolving dropout issues, and the government should think twice before simply taking punitive action and should find out what it can do to help dropouts and their families.
(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2004)

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