Girls in Conflict with the Law: Online Symposium Focuses on Hidden Crisis

A video of select moments from the introductory webinars of the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law.

For the past few years, calls to reexamine the criminal justice system have reverberated throughout the world—from the anti-police brutality movement in the United States to the protests in Hong Kong. This has coincided with Dui Hua’s own initiative to examine the treatment of an often-overlooked group in the justice system: girls.

Dui Hua launched the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law in October 2020. The culmination of three years of planning and coordination, the Symposium brings together more than two dozen experts from four continents with a range of perspectives on the factors that lead girls towards crime and incarceration. Yesterday, December 14, the Symposium completed its fourth event “Voices from Africa and the Middle East.” The Symposium will run through March 2021. 

To develop the Symposium, Dui Hua partnered with Patricia Lee, the Managing Attorney of the Juvenile Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office; Penal Reform International (PRI); and the Centre for Criminology and the School of Law’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law, both at the University of Hong Kong. Participants include activists, lawyers, judges, academics, researchers, journalists, and juvenile justice reformers. By connecting experts from different regions and specialties to exchange best practices, the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law shines a spotlight on this issue and proposes recommendations to address a crisis hidden in plain sight.

In the United States, girls are increasingly coming into conflict with the law. There has been a 45 percent increase in arrests of girls and a 40 percent increase in detentions according to Rights4Girls Staff Attorney Cherice Hopkins and Attorney & Youth Advocacy Coordinator Rebecca Burney, who presented these findings in a virtual event with the Justice Clearinghouse on October 6, 2020. Gendered violence, as well as the criminalization of victims’ responses, has created a pathway termed the Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline, which disproportionately affects girls of color. Childhood sexual abuse and family violence are key predictors of girls’ involvement in the system. In an attempt to cope with this trauma without adequate support, girls engage in behaviors that are becoming increasingly criminalized, such as truancy, substance abuse, and running away.


A photo from Girls in Justice. © Richard Ross,

When viewed as statistical data this information is disturbing enough, but when seen in context as a girl’s personal experience, it is harrowing. Pictured above is B.B., age 17, in juvenile detention. She describes how she ended up there:

There are no charges against me. I’m here because I am a material witness and I ran away a lot. There is a case against my pimp. He was my care worker when I was in a group home…They put me here when they went to my house and found no running water, no electricity. (p. 18)

This photograph of B.B. and her story come from Girls In Justice, a documentary photography project by Richard Ross. Ross will present and discuss his work in a webinar on February 2.

The Symposium launched with two introductory webinars on October 27 and November 10. During the first webinar, scheduled for audiences in North America and Europe, Kamm presented the rationale behind the Symposium and described how past Dui Hua expert exchanges led to this webinar series. Patricia Lee discussed the coming closure of San Francisco’s juvenile hall, the first such decision in the country, and plans to implement more diversion practices. Taghreed Jaber, PRI’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, spoke on issues affecting the region, including genital mutilation and the lack of access to schooling due to armed conflicts. The second introductory webinar on November 10, scheduled for audiences in Asia, featured Kamm and Lee as well as a presentation from Anna Wu, Honorary Professor on the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, who discussed the role and treatment of youth in the recent protests in Hong Kong.

The third webinar, “Pathways into and out of Offending for Girls,” took place on November 18 and featured Dr. Gena Castro-Rodriguez and Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman. Dr. Castro-Rodriguez spoke about her work in the Victim Services Division of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. She discussed how violence creates a pathway into the system and how interventions can break this trauma cycle. Dr. Cauffman, Professor of Psychological Science, Education and Law at UC Irvine, discussed one of the largest studies of juvenile offenders, the Pathways to Desistance study, and the relational nature of girls’ pathways to offending. 

“Voices from Africa and the Middle East,” the fourth webinar, took place on December 14. Taghreed Jaber, of Symposium partner PRI, spoke about the challenges that justice systems, including informal ones, present for girls in the Middle East and North Africa. She stressed the importance of gender-sensitive laws and the need for more female justice practitioners in the region. Children’s rights lawyer and professor Ann Skelton, who is also a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, discussed the unexpected effects of sexual offense legislation in South Africa on girls and addressed legal and cultural double standards affecting girls in South Africa and other African countries. Nafula Wafula, director of the Ushindi Empowerment Group, was scheduled to participate but had to cancel unexpectedly. Her presentation is currently being rescheduled.

The International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law is the sixth expert exchange facilitated by Dui Hua, the fifth of its exchanges to focus on juvenile justice, and the first to be conducted virtually. Following Dui Hua’s expert exchange in 2017, Kamm approached event participants from the Supreme People’s Court in China about collaborating on an exchange specifically addressing girls. The event shifted from an in-person symposium in Hong Kong in April 2020 to the virtual webinar series that runs through March 2021. Upcoming webinars will cover international perspectives, deeper looks at Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the treatment of indigenous girls in Canada, sexual violence in Scotland, alternatives to incarceration, sex trafficking, and the aforementioned webinar in which photographer Richard Ross will discuss his work documenting the lived experience of girls in the justice system—the people who must always be kept at the forefront when covering this crisis.


The schedule for the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law. Image credit: Joy Henry/The Dui Hua Foundation


The Chinese government has typically restricted news reporting on dissident trials, particularly trials of endangering state security. In late October 2020, reports from unofficial media sources emerged that a group of nine activists were sentenced for subversion in January 2020, three years after they were detained in what became known as the “Shenzhen Crackdown” in November 2016. Another activist was sentenced for inciting subversion.

Spotty information only indicated that they discussed current affairs in the so-called “same-city dinner gatherings,” sometimes called tongcheng fanzui (同城饭醉) in Mandarin Chinese. These dinner gatherings are homonymous with fanzui, which means “committing a crime.” Participants believed that police have no legitimate reason to prohibit citizens living in the same city from going to a restaurant to eat and drink together. 

Four of the participants remain imprisoned. Among them, Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成) is currently serving his 12-year imprisonment for subversion until February 2029.


Deng Hongcheng
Subversion12 yearsIn prison until February 2029
Wang Wei
5 years 6 monthsIn prison until May 2022
Wang Jianhua
4 years 6 monthsIn prison until May 2021
Li Jiangpeng
4 years 6 monthsIn prison until May 2021
Ding Yan
3 years 6 monthsReleased in July 2020
Liu Zhuohua
3 years 6 monthsReleased in October 2020
Li Nanhai
3 yearsReleased in February 2020
Xiao Bing
3 yearsReleased in February 2020
Wang Jun
3 yearsReleased in February 2020
Ma Zhiquan
Inciting subversion3 years 6 monthsReleased in July 2020

Source: The Dui Hua Foundation


Featured: Human Rights Journal, December 3, 2020: Supreme People’s Court Makes Two Announcements About Online Court Database

A screenshot of the China Judgements Online site’s announcement requiring users to register a mobile phone number. The announcement was put up on August 31, 2020, one day before the change took place.

In September 2020, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) announced two developments concerning China Judgements Online, the country’s national public internet court case database. First, the Court announced that the database has grown to contain over 100 million judgements—a staggering figure. Second, since September 1, database users have been required to register using a mobile phone number in order to search the website—a chilling restriction. Do these two developments mean anything for the future of judicial transparency in China? On both counts, the answer is yes, but not for the obvious reasons. The growth of the database may be positive, but more cases do not necessarily signal more judicial openness; meanwhile, the registration requirement may be bad, but more access requirements don’t necessarily signal more legal repression.

Read more here.

See Also: Press Statement: American Citizen Mark Swidan: Eight Years in Jiangmen Detention Center

Press Statement: Dui Hua Welcomes Jeff Muir to its Board of Directors


Dui Hua’s work attracted positive media coverage in 2020, despite the fact that most of the world’s attention was fixed on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. News organizations and academics around the world highlighted Dui Hua’s work and cited its research in 56 original publications in 2020, which were syndicated a further 64 times. There were several tributes to Takna Jigme Sangpo, who passed away this October 18 years after Dui Hua worked to secure his release, and extensive coverage of current detainee Mark Swidan. Dui Hua’s statistics on the death penalty in China and at-risk detainees were cited in at least a dozen academic articles, three books, and reports from the US government and several think tanks/NGOs. Just this week, a CNN article quoted former detainee Jeff Harper’s girlfriend saying, “[John Kamm] had all the information, he was able to help me be at ease.”


John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.

North China Earthquake: July 1976, Part II

Railway lines bent by the Tangshan earthquake. Image credit: Ge Changqiu, China Foto Press/

Read Part I here.

The Quake Strikes

In the early morning hours of July 28, 1976, I lay awake in my room on the 14th floor of the Peking Hotel. It was a hot, humid evening, and the windows were open an inch or so for fresh air. I was unable to sleep, worried about what I would say when asked to give a report on the chemicals market in the United States after I arrived in Tianjin.

Suddenly, at 3:42 AM, my bed began to heave violently up and down. This lasted around 20 seconds. Then, the swaying, like a pendulum, began, east to west. The windows flew open as much as they could, the ceiling cracked, and the bed slid across the room, first in one direction, then in the other. On each swing of the pendulum, the hotel, by now creaking and moaning, tilted more and more to the point that I thought the next would be the building’s last. But when it reached the apogee, the pendulum paused and gradually settled down, stroke by stroke, until the building came to rest. The violent shaking and swinging together lasted around 80 seconds.

The quake had hit Tangshan, a city 68 miles east of Beijing. It was rated a magnitude 7.5 quake (some estimates are higher) and it caused massive damage to large parts of Hebei Province, Tianjin, and Beijing. The official death toll was put at 242,000 people, though several estimates are much higher, making it one of the greatest natural disasters in history. Thousands of miners were entombed in the underground coal mines around Tangshan, China’s principal source of energy.

I jumped out of bed and threw on my clothes, but I couldn’t find my shoes. I went to the window and looked out over the neighborhoods, made up of a maze of hutong, to the north of the hotel. Children were crying, dogs were barking. On the horizon I made out explosions that I later found out were collapsing power stations. There was an eerie green hue to the early morning sky. I feared, for an instant, that the Soviets had carried out an attack on Beijing.

I decided not to look for my shoes any longer. I exited my room to pandemonium in the hall. Staff attendants were directing people to take the stairs down to the ground floor. People were nervous and excited, and some were nauseous, others expectorating after clearing their throats. It wasn’t long before my feet were filthy with spittle and dirt.

Rescuers dig through the rubble after the earthquake. Image credit:

We poured out onto Chang’an Dajie, Beijing’s main street. The city was coming to life. Trucks full of watermelons were barreling down the streets. Residents of nearby hutong began building makeshift street-side structures from pipes, plastic sheets, mats, and tarpaulin. These elaborate structures were to stay in place for more than a year.

Determined to wash my feet, I went back into the hotel. The lobby was cloaked in dust, and staff attendants were inspecting damage with flashlights. No one stopped me, so I took the still operating elevator back to my room on the 14th floor and immediately turned on the tap. Water! I washed myself the best I could and then lay down on my bed where I fell into a deep sleep.

Shortly after 7 AM, I was awakened by the phone. It was Guo Simian. “Mr. Kamm,” he said. “Last night there was an earthquake.”

“I know, Mr. Guo.” He told me to come down to the lobby.

As soon as I saw him, I asked him if there had been damage and casualties. He replied, “No, nothing serious. A few damaged buildings. You can take a train to Tianjin later today.” After his reassurances, he disappeared.

An officer of the Liaison Office stopped by to check on us, I asked him to call my wife in Hong Kong, letting her know I was okay. Not long after this call, my mother, who was in Hawaii, called Irene’s brother who let her know I was safe.

The Party Speaks

Mr. Guo returned in the late afternoon. He called his charges together and announced that the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China had met and determined that there had in fact been an earthquake earlier that day. Foreigners should leave Beijing as soon as possible. If assistance was required, the relevant departments would do what they could to provide it.

I told Guo that I would stay until I was sure that Ambassador Phillips was safely evacuated. We agreed to go to the Number One Infectious Disease Hospital the next morning.

We found Phillips in a tent on the hospital grounds. The tent was stifling hot, but he was stoic, nary a complaint. Sharing the tent were three Laotian soldiers who had been bombed by US forces and who were being treated for hepatitis. The daughter of the Tanzanian ambassador was also housed in the tent. While we were there, trucks with casualties from Tangshan began to arrive.

Rescue workers dig through a building in ruins. Image credit: Wang Wenlan/China Daily

Returning to the hotel, I went to the restaurant for lunch. Suddenly an aftershock rattled the windows, making them look like flowing water. I later learned that this aftershock was measured as 7.1 on the Richter scale. I decided to sleep on the ground floor, accompanied by three CCPIT officials. I returned to my room for the next two nights.

On July 29, I ventured out of the hotel to survey the damage. The building with the most damage was the department store I had just visited. The southeast corner of the building had crumbled, and bricks were strewn everywhere.

Mandate of Heaven

The foreign missions organized evacuation flights, and Ambassador Phillips departed on one that left on July 30. I decided to take a flight to Guangzhou on July 31, thence by train to Hong Kong. On checking out, I was told that there were only 50 foreign guests left in the hotel, down from 300 on July 28.

On the CAAC flight to Guangzhou I was seated next to a survivor of the quake, a Frenchman who had been in Tangshan on a friendship tour. His wife had been killed. When he went to use the washroom, the Chinese official accompanying him insisted that the man’s hair had turned white as a result of what he had experienced.

On April 4, 2018, a person visits a memorial wall in remembrance of victims in the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. Image credit: Dong Jun/Xinhua

Upon arrival in Guangzhou, I went to the Dong Fang Hotel, where I had stayed at the trade fairs, and took a room. The previous four days had taken a toll on my mental state. I had grown accustomed to uncertainty, to not knowing if the ground beneath me was solid. Gradually, the tension eased, leaving me with a splitting migraine headache.

The next morning, I took the train down to Lo Wu, where I crossed the wooden railway bridge and entered Hong Kong. I boarded the Kowloon-Canton Railway where I was met by a gaggle of local journalists eager to hear what I had experienced. I was featured on the evening news and wrote an op-ed for the Ta Kung Pao, a local left-wing newspaper. The op-ed compared the earthquake to the death of Premier Zhou Enlai. I later learned that the leftist leadership in Shanghai was greatly angered by what I had written. They refused to let it run in the local edition of Reference News.

I also gave an interview to the Washington Post’s Jay Matthews. The story ran in the paper on August 2, 1976.

Six weeks after the earthquake, Mao Zedong died, and four weeks later Hua Guofeng, the Communist Party’s new chairman, carried out the arrest of the “Gang of Four,” one of whose members was Zhang Chunqiao, the man Tom Gates had warned us about. In traditional Chinese belief, natural disasters presage the end of an emperor’s reign. Thus, in the eyes of many Chinese, the North China Earthquake of July 28, 1976 was a sign that Emperor Mao was losing the Mandate of Heaven.