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'Judge mother': No bad children
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-13 05:33

During her 20-year career as a juvenile judge in Haidian District, Beijing, Shang Xiuyun has passed sentence on 760 children.

But she would rather consider herself as a teacher, doctor and mother than a judge.

'Judge mother': No bad children
Shang Xiuyun
Many of the children she has handled still keep in touch with her and call her "mum."

"There are no bad children, just unfortunate ones," is the phrase she often uses in her daily work.

Behind each juvenile offender, there often lies a traumatic experience, she said.

"The education of children under 6 years old is most important, and its influence may last for a whole lifetime," said the amiable judge, whose face breaks into a smile when talking about children.

"The environment, especially the family environment in which the children grow up, is of vital significance for their character development," said Shang, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

In a survey conducted by Shang's court last year, covering 100 delinquent children, Shang found 60 per cent of them came from unstable, often single-parent families.

"The quarrels, fights or indifferences between parents can exert an incalculable negative influence on their children," she said. "Parents are their first teachers in the world.

"A broken family can leave a child in a miserable situation.

"They bring the child into this world, but they don't want to bring them up or bring them up properly."

Of the 760 children Shang has sentenced, only five have relapsed back into crime, she said.

In 2001, Shang became a household celebrity because of a movie "Judge Mother" which was based on her work.

The movie garnered almost all of the top domestic movie prizes that year.

Shang said she was moved to tears by the film, which she has watched four times.

"More than 90 per cent of the things in the movie really happened," she said. "I am not moved by myself, but by the true feelings in the movie."

Shang said that she could not help but shed a tear each time she saw the scene in which a restaurant owner bullies a child he has wrongly accused of stealing his money.

"I felt such pity for children such as these," she said.

During the past two decades, nearly 200 out of the 760 children she has sentenced received a non-custodial sentence.

"One thing that has annoyed me during some of these occasions is whispering behind my back that I must have been bribed to give a child a lenient sentence," she said.

As a judge in juvenile courts, Shang said she has a little more freedom in giving these defendants another opportunity, but that power cannot be abused.

Shang said that she had never accepted any bribes, and was not moved by shows of emotion.

She said: "Can you give a child a lenient sentence because he keeps crying?

"The law is the law, and we have our roles."

Away from court, Shang's role seemingly switches to that of a mother.

Shang said that she felt a great sense of achievement when she was invited to the wedding of one of the children she had sentenced.

She even revealed some of the children often brought their friends to her for advice.

Shang is also a legal counsellor at many primary and middle schools in Beijing, and many children recognize her in the street and call out: "Judge mother."

"I feel rather honoured as well as flattered to be working in this position," she said.

Haidian District, where she works, is the main education district in the capital and has more than 200,000 minors. Her work in the area over the past 20 years has made her a respected figure among her court colleagues.

Shang is now concentrating some of her efforts on writing a guidebook for parents.

"I have experienced so many types of problems with children," she said.

"I want my book to help parents avoid the common mistakes I have seen."

(China Daily 03/13/2006 page3)

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