China’s new charity law makes donating easier, tightens control

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Originally published by DPA International on September 1, 2016

China’s first national charity law came into effect Thursday in a move designed to encourage giving and ease restrictions on domestic charities, while at the same time tighten control of the sector, local media reported.

The law relaxes registration requirements for charities and aims to foster a culture of charitable giving through improved fraud protection and incentives such as tax benefits.

“The law itself, which for the first time creates a national legislative framework for direct registration [to legally raise funds], is a big step forward,” Karla Simon, affiliated scholar at the New York University School of Law said.

However, human rights groups say the wording of the law is too vague and restrictions will weaken some non-profit groups by restricting their access to domestic sources of funding in the world’s second-largest economy.

“The fact that organizations cannot violate ‘national security’, ‘public interests’, or go against ‘social morals’ is problematic since the government has often enforced these concepts in ways that are not consistent with international laws and standards,” said Amnesty International China researcher William Nee.

Charities which want to fundraise must first receive approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and there will be an “exceptions” list of groups which has no appeals process.

“One group likely to be hit hard by the law will be friends and supporters of prisoners of conscience, who often put out calls for donations online,” said Frances Eve, China researcher for the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Simon said government disapproval of some non-profit organisations has always been the case, and she expects that groups such as HIV/AIDs and environmental groups will continue to find ways to work “along the edges of the law”.

The amount of charitable giving in China has lagged behind the country’s rapid economic development.

Out of some 670,000 registered social organizations in the country, a total of 61 billion yuan (9.12 billion dollars) in donations was received in 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

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