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China ponders new law after toddler's death

The incident last week in Guangdong province led many Chinese to ask what type of society they had created after three decades of rising incomes and unprecedented wealth.

BEIJING // A toddler run over and left bleeding in the street by more than a dozen passers-by has died, following a week of soul-searching in China over why people were so unwilling to help a child in distress.

Surveillance camera footage of Yue Yue being run over by a van, ignored by passers-by and struck again by another van, caused widespread outrage in China.

The severely injured toddler was eventually brought to the side of the road by a rubbish collector, although not before she had been ignored by a total of 18 people, including a mother walking her own young daughter.

The incident last week in Guangdong province led many Chinese to ask what type of society they had created after three decades of rising incomes and unprecedented wealth. Others blamed traditions that put value on the lives of family and friends but did not extend the same concern to strangers.

Internet users yesterday took to China's Weibo microblogging site to express their sadness at Yue Yue's death. One user, Flower Ying, said Yue Yue "will not see more of this dark side of society", while Mark Martha described on October 13, the date on which Yue Yue was injured, as "a day of national shame".

There have been many cases in China in recent years where people have ignored the injured or ill in need of help.

Many have said they were put off from helping because of cases in which individuals who went to the aid of injured elderly people were blamed by the old person for causing their injuries, and landed with heavy medical bills.

A recent survey by the Renmin University of China and other academic institutions found 87 per cent of people cited a fear of getting into trouble when asked why they would not help an elderly person who had fallen.

There were calls this week for the introduction of a law to compel people to help accident victims. Communist Party organisations in Guangdong, including the Communist Youth League, were said to be keen for rules to be introduced that would punish anyone who failed to assist an injured person, according to state media.

"Many laws, including forbidding drunken driving in China, have been passed after high-profile individual cases, and now is the right time to legislate against refusing to help people," Zhu Yongping, a Chinese-based lawyer, told the China Daily newspaper.

Ling Bing, a professor in the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law, said the Yue Yue case showed "moral decay" among the public, but suggested legislation was not the answer.

"I don't think a law that compels people to act would be effective," he said by telephone. "It's a law that would be very hard to enforce and it's a law that fundamentally will not be able to change people's behaviour very much."

He suggested instead that the country's supreme court could reaffirm the principle that accusers have to prove that helpers have caused them injury.

There have been signs the Yue Yue case may have already changed attitudes. On Wednesday, several passers-by quickly went to the aid of a 20-month-old boy, Xiao Jie, knocked down by a reversing car in a bazaar in Foshan, state media reported. More than 10 stallholders called out for the car to stop and alerted the child's mother, a vegetable seller. The toddler suffered a broken leg and was recovering in hospital.

dbardsley@thenational.ae