An unwritten rule in China states that one should not pick up a crying baby or help an old person lying on the road.

That is more to do with risks, than humanity. There have been no shortage of cases over the past decade in which good Samaritans were penalized, or blackmailed, for charitable acts.

But things might change now that the Good Samaritan law has taken effect from October 1, in a bid to protect people who are ready to help others in need.

According to Xinhua, people who voluntarily offer emergency assistance to others who are (or believe they are) injured, ill, in danger, or otherwise incapacitated, will not face civil liability action if victims come to harm, under the legislation.

The new law attempts to reduce the reluctance that people generally feel about helping strangers, because of fear of legal repercussion if something goes wrong in the treatment process.

The infamous Peng Yu incident in 2006 involved a good Samaritan (of that name) who assisted an elderly Nanjing woman who had fallen down. She sued him, claiming he had knocked her over. The court ruled that “no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty” and awarded her a large sum – which stirred huge media coverage and a public outcry.

The Samaritan index hit another low point in 2014, when a man from Guangdong province, who aided an elderly man was accused of knocking him down. Hit by demands for compensation, the Good Samaritan committed suicide.

In a survey conducted in 2011, 71% of respondents said that people who do not offer a helping hand to others in need were afraid of getting into trouble. The survey undertaken after the death of Wang Yue, a two-year-old girl nicknamed “Little Yue Yue”, who was run over by two vehicles in an accident in Foshan in Guangdong province. The drama was caught on video, which showed 18 people ignored the girl and were unwilling to help her.

Finally, the 19th person who passed by – a 58-year-old scrap collector surnamed Chen – offered help to Little Yue Yue. Sadly, the girl died in hospital eight days later from her injuries.

The shocking case was discussed by at least 10 party and government departments in Guangdong, which debated whether people who refuse to help others who clearly need assistance should be punished, the China Daily reported. Since then, the “Little Yue Yue Incident” has become the case typically raised when the launch of a law to protect Good Samaritans is discussed.

On August 2013, the nation’s first Good Samaritan law took effect in Shenzhen. A similar law was adopted in Shanghai last year before it became a national law this month. So, it has taken six years for a nationwide law to be launched since the death of Little Yue Yue.

The national law is similar to legislation in the United States and Canada (except Quebec), but it does not include the duty to rescue, which legislation requires in European countries like Germany and France.

One simple reason could be that knowledge on how to best respond to emergency situations is low among Chinese. One survey found that only 1% of Shenzhen citizen know first-aid, compared to one in 10 people in other countries. Over 90% of students in Japan, for example, know first-aid.