Comments on the problem of juveniles’ excessive money consumption for adoring stars, tipping to streamers, and addicting to games
- The Legal Nature of These Problems
According to Article 17-20 of the Civil Code yet to take effect, the natural persons over the age of 18 are adults. Natural persons under the age of 18 are juveniles. However, the juveniles over the age of 16 that has their own income as their main source of livelihood shall be regarded as persons with full civil capacity for actions. Juveniles over the age of eight are persons with limited civil capacity for actions and shall be represented by their legal representatives or under the consent and ratification of their legal representatives in the execution of civil juristic actions; however, the juveniles over eight may independently perform civil juristic actions that are purely profitable or actions that are compatible with their age and intelligence. Juveniles under the age of eight are persons without civil capacity for actions, and these juveniles’ legal representatives shall represent the juveniles in the execution of civil juristic actions.
Therefore, the contract signed by the juveniles under eight for money spending are invalid; the validity of the contract signed by juveniles over eight is undetermined, and the contract ratified by his custodian is valid. If his custodian refuses to ratify the contract, the contract would be invalid from the very beginning.
- The Characteristics of Such Problems in Real Cases
- The case is usually concealed, and the guardian is not informed
In many cases, parents didn’t know their children’s excessive money spending. Some parents did not realize that their credit card balances had been greatly reduced or become zero until the parents needed the money in cards, several months after the case had happened. Many juveniles would delete money transaction records and bank notification messages after their excessive money consumption, resulting in the delay of the discovery of these cases. However, some companies stipulate that the appeal on contracts that are signed 180 days before will no longer be accepted. Such provisions affected the timely refund of the money.
- Large top-up amounts
According to media reports and decided cases by courts, some minors top up several thousand yuan, and some even top up tens of thousands of yuan. And according to media reports, many parents choose to keep silence after finding out. This is because they do not know how to use law to defend their rights, nor do they know whether these internet companies have special customer service and solutions for juveniles’ money consumption.
- Centralized top-up channels and decentralized money flow
The main top-up methods of juveniles are usually WeChat, Alipay, online banking and telephone charges. However, the services or products purchased by the recharging are diverse and are not limited to one company. Many companies have set different refund regulations for different products and services, and accordingly, the refund amount and procedures differ. The dispersion of money flow increases the difficulty of and the time spent on refunding.
- Proposed modalities for financial recovery
- Negotiation with customer service is better than litigation
Based on public judgements, there are relatively fewer judgments where parents have prevailed in their lawsuits. But this could be explained by the facts that these cases may involve the privacy of minors and families. But as a matter of facts, parents who enter into litigation will face the negative impacts of litigation costs, time consumption and information disadvantages, and the companies involved often have information advantages, evidentiary advantages, and a team of legal professionals. Moreover, some small companies have simple, if not unreachable, organizations, and it is more difficult to prosecute as these companies are located throughout the country.
In May 2020, the Supreme Court formulated the Guiding Opinions (II) on Several Issues Concerning the Proper Trial of Civil Cases Involving the COVID-19 Pandemic in accordance with Law (“Guiding Opinions II”), which provides further provisions on such issues. “Article 9 of Guiding Opinions II makes it clear that if a person with restricted civil capacity participates in online paid games or rewards the online live streaming platforms without the consent of his or her guardian and spends money that is not commensurate with his or her age or intelligence, the guardian may request the return of the payment, and the Supreme Court shall support it.
The Supreme Court explained that “this provision has two meanings: first, in terms of the target audience, although this provision is mainly applied to minors under the age of eighteen, minors under eight years old are persons incapable of civil actions, hence it is a natural conclusion that all expenses incurred by minors under the age of eight years in participating in online games should be refunded, and therefore no specific provision is made in the Guiding Opinion. Second, with regard to the amount of the expenses, this provision does not adopt a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but limits the refundable amount to those incompatible with the minor’s age and intelligence. This can be evaluated comprehensively by judges in a specific case based on factors such as the type of games the child participates in, the growth environment, and the family economic status. Although the judicial interpretation stipulates as such, in reality, some companies have relatively complete and systematic responses to this.
Some companies have a special customer service phone number for minors to top up, parents can communicate directly with the platform’s customer service, indicating that the minors’ top-up lacks parental consent. The customer service staff will usually inform the solution, time and materials needed. Some companies will test the parent’s determination to get refund, in this process parents must indicate the relevant legal contents, and let the customer service clarify the legal consequences of their relevant answers. Pay attention to save the recordings and screenshots of the dialogue throughout the process. As Tencent and Alibaba Group are more experienced at this issue, after verification, they will refund the money. Thus, the better prepared of the materials and the earlier appeal for refund, the greater the possibility and amount of refund is.
- Resolutely use legal means if the negotiation fails.
In cases where the companies deny the situation of minors’ topping up, parents should express their will to resort to judicial procedure to the opposing party, and contact an attorney or legal aid department in a timely manner. Usually many media, consumer protection organizations and government departments are very interested in such cases. Especially now when the Operation Clean Sweep is going on, if the company involved knows that the parents are going to sue, it may actively contact the parents to resolve the case.
- Parents may only be successful 1 time
Many companies stipulate that the case of the same minor will be accepted only once, which is not stipulated by law in any way. But based on reality, it can be steeply more difficult for parents to negotiate again or win a lawsuit. As summer vacation approaches, parents should do their best to educate their children about the issues and be sure to protect the personal payment and bank card passwords.
作者：何俊成 编辑：孙佳慧 翻译：李笑然 任书仪