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Heart of the law

Updated: 2016-01-11 07:57
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

Had panhandling not been controlled by the underworld, an underage beggar would get food from street stands or most passersby. And that includes supermarket owners or managers, I'm certain.

Chocolate used to be seen as a small luxury in China.

It is not a snack that fills your stomach, the way a bowl of instant noodles does.

Later reports also said the Zhao girl stole not just candy bars but knickknacks that totaled 150 yuan ($24). Having two small girls of my own, I feel I can empathize with what goes through the mind of a child that age.

When shopping with me, they pick stuff that I consider useless, mostly junk food. So I impose a limit, only one item each time.

But I have to watch out in case they put things into their pockets - to fool either me or the checkout counter. It takes a while to drum into them that it is wrong and punishable. But the temptation is always there.

If Zhao had asked for money from her parents for the things she wanted, she would have been turned down. So, she stole them, which was illegal but forgivable for her age. It would take repeated admonishing for a youngster to understand the concept that stealing is bad, which would eventually become part of her moral fabric.

The problem lies with the way she was admonished on that day before the year's end. And I believe it was more the responsibility of the parent than the store manager. Unfortunately, in this case, the parent made a bigger mistake.

Some say the manager/owner should not have called her mother, but rather, the police. Since she was a minor, the police would have to call her parent as well.

The key, in my opinion, is whether the store treated her in a professional way or the way Chinese traditionally treat a thief, which is akin to lynching.

Nobody knows a child better than Mom.

When the mother came to pay the penalty, usually set at a rate higher than the value of the stolen goods - by up to 10 times - it was completely wrong for her to vent her humiliation onto the child.

Yes, the situation cost the adult face, but she had to bear it in public. The store said its staff stepped in to stop her from beating up the girl.

There was one little detail that seemed to have eluded most commentators.

Zhao was reported to be a good student in school, earning high scores and general kudos from teachers and fellow students. This made her all the more vulnerable.

Had she been a "bad girl" constantly chastised for all kinds of mischievous activities, she might have gained the "thick skin" to withstand the fuss. But she was sensitive. And her mother should have known.

Reports, though unconfirmed, say the store, as a result of public pressure, had to pay 850,000 yuan to the girl's parents as compensation.

If there's a lesson to be learned for the business and others, I believe it should be empathy.

If they'd put themselves in the shoes of the girl or her parent, they may not have stuck so rigidly to the penalty for shoplifting.

There should always be room in rules and laws to accommodate human factors.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn


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