Police say company's 'guardian stations' pose risks
Chinese real estate agency Lianjia has been slammed by police and has triggered widespread controversy after it allegedly proffered services for lost children and encouraged them to seek help in Lianjia shops.
"Please tell your children that if they get lost and cannot find their parents, please go to Lianjia for help, where a 'guardian station' for missing children has been launched in every store," read a post that was widely circulated on China's social media.
Lianjia on Saturday explained that it had cooperated with China's Child Safety Emergency Response, a platform launched by Zhongshe Social Work Development Foundation, to launch the guardian stations for missing children at its 6,000 shops throughout China.
Their main function is to help connect missing children with police for help, it added.
The stations will be launched on May 25, International Missing Children's Day, when all Lianjia shops will post guardian station signs at their premises, said a separate announcement from the company.
"We have been informed to help call the police and contact the children's parents when missing children come to the store, and we are expected to receive relevant training later," Fu Jiao, a Lianjia employee in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.
The company's recommendation was soon pilloried by the official accounts of police in East China's Jiangsu Province and Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, who argued that children should stay where they are until their parents return or ask police officers instead of going to a store to seek help.
"Teaching a child that does not even know where he is to find a guardian station? How about you stop making a show to improve your image," read a post on the Chongqing cyber police's Sina Weibo account on Saturday.
Jiangsu's cyber police also questioned whether Lianjia employees would be able to find and identify the parents of the missing children, saying that such recommendations mislead the public.
Public opinion appears divided, with some saying business participation is needed, as police cannot take care of all missing children.
However, other netizens pointed out that the practice might lead to more risks to children's safety instead.
The company cannot prevent people pretending to be employees from abducting or otherwise harming children who go to them for help, according to Tong Xiaojun, dean of the Research Institute of Children and Adolescents at China Youth University for Political Sciences.
"However, it is praiseworthy for a business that owns stores nationwide to vow to help missing children out of a feeling of social responsibility," Tong told the Global Times on Monday.
Wang Hongwei, an associate professor with the School of Public Administration and Policy at the Renmin University of China, added that if the child leaves the place where he or she became lost, it complicates police and parents' search.
"Also, most of Lianjia's stores are located in big cities, while most children are abducted in small cities," Wang told the Global Times on Monday.