Sex attacks on girls cast pall over Children's Day
Spate of assaults makes parents fearful, while officials face public pressure to protect minors and criticism for downplaying incidents
As the mainland marks Children's Day today, many people are saying it will be the darkest ever, with parents fearing their daughters might be the next victim following a recent spate of sexual assaults of schoolgirls.
In the past three weeks, at least eight such cases have been reported.
China News Service reported this week that more than 2,500 girls had been sexually assaulted in Guangdong over the past three years, with 65 per cent of the offences committed by people who were close to the victims.
The mainland authorities have come under heavy public pressure over their inability to offer effective protection to vulnerable minors and for trying to silence the parents of victims and activists fighting for girls' rights.
"Society has been turned into a rapist's paradise," said Wang Quanping, a lawyer from Jiangmen , Guangdong.
"This is the saddest Children's Day ever and it gives no cause for celebration."
Wang was one of seven lawyers initially hired by parents of victims in Hainan , where six girls were allegedly raped by a principal and a government official. However, the parents were forced to withdraw the appointments after the local authorities warned them "not to make a big deal out of it".
The Hainan case, which happened in Wanning on May 8, triggered a massive national outcry after the local authorities appeared to downplay its seriousness, saying "no sexual intercourse occurred", even though forensic evidence showed otherwise.
Earlier this week, gender-rights activist Ye Haiyan and several lawyers held up cardboard placards in front of the Wanning primary school whose principal is a suspect, urging teachers with deviant tendencies to leave pupils alone.
They also posted photos of their campaign online. Ye's popular campaign went viral online; supporters say that was why she was attacked in her flat in Guangxi's Bobai county the day after returning from Hainan. She was reportedly assaulted by 10 women and a man.
On Thursday, Ye was arrested for injuring three of the women with a knife, while her attackers were set free.
Public discontent continues to mount, with scholars, students and lawyers staging further protests in an expanding civil movement.
At least a dozen lawyers arrived in Bobai county yesterday, with more on their way, working on rescuing Ye from what they called "illegal detention".
"I would get a knife too if I'm attacked by so many people in my own flat," Wang said.
"This is nothing but a pure act of self-defence."
Professor Ai Xiaoming , of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, posted online a photograph of her naked breasts bearing a slogan calling for Ye's release.
"This is my body which has given birth and raised [a child]. These are my breasts and evidence as a mother. Come get me, let go of the pupils and let go of Ye Haiyan," Ai said in her microblog.
Having sex with underage girls is considered rape in many jurisdictions, but the charge of "soliciting underage girls for prostitution" - introduced during a revision of the Criminal Code in 1997 - has created a legal loophole on the mainland.
Legal experts are calling for the controversial charge to be abolished, saying it has directly led to a surge in sexual offences against underage girls.
Wang Yu, a criminal lawyer, criticised the Ministry of Education and the All-China Women's Federation for shying away from their responsibilities.
"Up until now they are still quiet and did not take up any responsibility for what happened," Wang said. "I'm a mother and I'm very concerned with my child's safety. This law is damaging girls' rights and demonising them by turning them into sex workers in the public's eyes."
Lawyer Wang Quanping said the school curriculum also had bear some blame. "Pupils should be taught more about how to protect themselves from harm, but all they are encouraged to learn is how to love the party and love the country," he said.
Apart from the legal loopholes, Tang Jitian , a Beijing-based human-rights lawyer, said the lack of faith on the mainland - which could set moral standards in a society more used to worshipping goods and money - was a contributory factor in the widespread sexual abuse.
"Some have twisted beliefs, thinking that having sex with young girls will bring good luck," Tang said.