China plans to forbid all de facto single people from adopting children of the opposite sex who are less than 40 years younger as part of the efforts to prevent sexual abuse.
Experts hailed the latest review of the draft civil code as necessary but added that insufficient government oversight lies at the root of the problem.
During the bimonthly session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee last week, Shen Chunyao, deputy director of the Constitution and Law Committee of the NPC－the top legislature－reported to the Standing Committee that de facto singles, described as married people whose spouses are either missing or lack the ability to consent to civil acts, should be disallowed from adopting children who are not sufficiently younger than the person seeking adoption.
At the session, the draft civil code was submitted to the Standing Committee of the NPC for a second review.
Shen said the age gap rule only applies to single adopters in the current marriage section of the civil code and added that the revision is aimed at "protecting adoptees' legal interests".
Other proposed revisions include barring people from adopting if they have records that could hurt a child's development.
Chinese adoption law only allows adoptions by childless citizens over age 30 who demonstrate child-rearing capability and have no diseases that would make them unfit to adopt. The law went a step further to require single male adopters to be at least 40 years older than their female adoptees, but it has no such provision for married but de facto single adopters.
When rolled out, the proposed revisions in the draft civil code could make up for the insufficiencies in the adoption rules and could help prevent sexual abuse and other misconduct common in adoptions, according to Feng Xianying, a Beijing-based lawyer who focuses on family and marriage issues.
One such case involves a business tycoon in Zhejiang province named Shi Zengchao. In 2016, his foster daughter called police saying she had been sexually abused by Shi for eight years since her informal adoption at age 7.
Shi fled China after police intervention and is now among China's most-wanted fugitives.
Feng said legal provisions could mitigate such accidents, but the age gap rule alone is not enough to stem such abuses.
"The government's role should persist after an adoption is completed," she said, adding that authorities should get involved in the whole process of child-rearing to make sure children settle down in their foster families because doing so could help solve the root problem.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, a total of 97,819 adoptions were registered in China during the five-year period that ended in 2018.