A naked six-year-old girl smoking a cigarette was spotted begging on the streets of Nanjing, central China, from June 26.
By July 4, after outraged residents called attention to the matter, and embarrassing reports emerged in the local press, authorities packed the girl and her father off to their hometown in Chenlong village and gave them an allowance. Li Mingshan, a Nanjing police officer, told state-run Xinhua that both of the girls’ parents were “mentally ill” and lived in extreme poverty.
Her father, surnamed Zhou, 46, had forced her into begging, saying that it earned him more than doing heavy labor, collecting garbage for the city, or farming locally. By begging without clothes, the girl was able to earn her father over 600 yuan ($97.95) over the last six days.
Residents in Nanjing saw the girl laying naked on the ground with a cigarette on Wednesday and reported it to police. Some residents believed the girl had been abducted, thinking that no father would let his daughter smoke at such a young age and beg without clothes.
“The man wouldn’t get a penny without his daughter,” a resident told the Nanjing Modern Express, “He is an able-bodied man, but he doesn’t work and instead forces his daughter into beggary. It’s very shameful.”
A netizen with the pseudonym “Lonely Flower” wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like platform, “Just to make money, one lets the kid smoke and lets the kid starve. How can that be called a father?”
The girl was again spotted on the morning of July 2 in the same location, wearing dirty green clothes, sitting next to her father who was shirtless. Homeless shelter officials offered bread and water to the two, but Zhou refused.
“I don’t need any help.” Zhou told a local news reporter, “I won’t go to the shelter and my kid won’t either.”
Zhou said that he was forced to rent out his small allotment of farmland for 1,000 yuan ($163.25) per year, after his girlfriend disappeared five years earlier, leaving him to look after their son and daughter, eight and six years old respectively.
But the rent payments couldn’t support the three-person family, so he became a beggar and forced his daughter to go begging naked, which he says makes more money, according to the Nanjing Modern Express. “I have a lot of troubles,” Zhou told the newspaper.
The beggar girl and her father is the latest China has seen in a spate of child abuse cases, including two toddler girls in Nanjing who were found dead in an apartment from starvation, and an 11-year-old girl in Guizhou whose mouth was sewn shut by her father with a fishing line.