Doubts criminal law has teeth to protect minors from sex predators

Spate of cases prompts media to ask whether offenders should be tried for rape, rather than soliciting sex from children

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 3:55am

News that yet another teacher has been accused of molesting students - this a time a primary school principal in Hainan - sparked soul-searching media commentaries on how the mainland's school system and the criminal law itself had failed to protect minors.

China National Radio online reported on Tuesday that six girls, aged 12 or 13, from two primary schools in Wanning were taken to hotels for a night in that city and Haikou by the principal of a primary school and a civil servant on May 8.

The principal and civil servant were taken into custody, although there have been conflicting accounts from police and parents over whether in fact the girls had been sexually assaulted.

On Tuesday, the Beijing News said the case again underscored the marked decline in adult moral standards, including teachers, and exposed flaws in school administration and oversight. "There has been an apparent lack of a clear line beyond which teachers and pupils can go in their interaction on a daily basis," the paper said.

The high esteem in which the profession was held in China could be exploited by teachers who preyed on children, it said.

In many developed countries awareness of sexual assault and harassment is an integral part of sex education at school, but educators on the mainland avoid the topic as some parents mistakenly believe it encourages children to be promiscuous.

As more details about the Hainan case came to light, the media also scrutinised the upbringing of the girls.

Quoting some the girl's parents, the Xiangtan Morning Post reported on Wednesday their daughters were talked into the rendezvous with the two adults by another girl who referred the principal as her "godfather".

The girl showed off to the other girls clothes, shoes, groceries and cash she received from the civil servant to cover her rent.

The paper said the six girls went to a local teahouse and later to a karaoke bar in Wanning before two of them left for Haikou with the government clerk while the others returned to a local hotel with the principal. "While the public and the girls' parents point fingers at the two adults, should people be taking stock of how these girls ended up in such a situation?" the paper asked.

The incident comes less than a week after a primary school principal in Qianshan county, Anhui province , was charged for sexually assaulting nine school girls, including one as young as six, over a 12-year period. Also last week, a primary school teacher in Longxi county, Gansu province, was given a suspended death sentence for raping and molesting eight underage girls.

The rising number of sexual assaults on minors has raised questions over a controversial clause in the national criminal code under which child sex offenders often stand trial for "soliciting sex from underage girls," instead of the far more serious charge of rape, allowing many perpetrators to be given lenient sentences.

The Beijing Times said many questions remained unanswered over the relationship of the two adults in Hainan, what they did to the girls, and whether other minors have been involved previously.

The paper said that even if the two adults faced the full force of the law, there would still be questions about whether children were given adequate protection under current laws given the calls for the abolition of the controversial clause in the criminal law.

The Shenzhen-based Daily Sunshine newspaper called the clause in the criminal law "evil", saying that if the victims were adults, the perpetrators would stand trial for rape, which carries the death sentence. The clause was an insult to potential minor victims as it implied that they were child prostitutes, the paper said, and the light sentences meted out only encouraged more attacks on minors.