Death of girl in China triggers calls for better crowdfunding supervision

HENAN (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Local police in China's Henan province are looking into accusations that a mother raised money online for her three-year-old daughter with eye cancer but failed to use the money for her treatment.

Experts are also calling for tightened management of online charity crowdfunding to make sure the money is properly used.

Ms Yang Meiqin, a woman in Taikang county and mother of five, raised money twice via Shuidichou, an online crowd funding platform, for medical treatment for her fourth daughter, Wang Fengya, in November and March after the girl was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer that occurs mostly in children.

Ms Yang raised more than 35,000 yuan (S$7,300), according to a statement from the platform released on Friday (May 25).

Ms Yang also posted her daughter's videos on Huoshan, a video sharing app, to raise money. And she published her WeChat account to receive netizens' money. She received nearly 3,000 yuan through Huoshan and WeChat, according to local police.

However, after the fundraising, some netizens, judging from the information the mother posted on her WeChat moment, suspected that the mother used the money to treat her only son, who has a cleft palate.

Yao Hua, project manager of Shanghai Dashu Public Welfare Support Center, a non-government charitable organization for children's welfare, said that after noticing the discussion online their volunteers went to Henan on April 9 to verify the girl's situation but were turned away by the family.

The girl died on May 4 from the disease, which added fuel to the fire. Many donors felt their kindness had been misused, and local police started to investigate.

Zhang Lei, head of the publicity department with the public security bureau in Taikang county, Zhoukou city, told China Daily on Thursday that police do not consider the mother's actions constituted fraud or child abuse, but they are persuading Ms Yang's family to return the leftover money to the fundraising platforms.

In a statement released on Friday, the online crowd funding platform Shuidichou says it is working with the police to figure out whether there's any misappropriation and how much money had been used for the girl's treatment.

The girl's grandfather told Red Star News, Chengdu Economic Daily's new media platform, on Friday that the family spent 37,773 yuan on the girl's treatment, living expenses, transportation and funeral. He denied the accusations of fraud and said they now have 865 yuan left.

On Sina Weibo, the girl's death triggered several hot topics.

According to the Charity Law, online fundraising can only be conducted by platforms authorised by civil affairs authorities, but that does not apply to crowd funding.

Raising money by individuals for personal matters through crowd funding, if proved to be fraudulent or deliberately withholding the truth, should be dealt with as a civil dispute or possibly a criminal case.

He Guoke, a lawyer with Beijing Zhicheng Law Firm, said that the mother's actions should be considered crowd funding, which does not belong to online fundraising.

"The crowd funding platforms should be responsible for the accuracy of information such as the description of the illness, the amount being sought and the economic situation of the patient," he said.

He also urged such platforms to better fulfill their obligations to supervise those seeking help to ensure the funds are used in accordance with the agreement and to report the use of the money to the donors in a timely manner. If anything goes wrong, the platform can be exempted from responsibility if they have taken these actions, he said.