CHINA BRIEFING
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Child sex attacks and treatment of elderly shame China

Shocking spate of child sex attacks by teachers and problems facing the ageing population are shameful blots on the nation's social record

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 10:04am

China has long prided itself on showing respect for the old and caring for the young.

But news of a spate of child molestation cases and a landmark report revealing the problems of the growing elderly population should make mainlanders feel truly ashamed and prompt deep soul-searching.

Saturday was International Children's Day on the mainland, but its celebration was marred by at least eight cases of child molestation last month alone.

They involved none other than teachers in the provinces of Hainan, Anhui, Hunan, Shandong, Henan and Guangdong.

The despicable acts have caused a nationwide uproar, prompting even the staid official media to question whether the cases are the tip of the iceberg.

Reports said the cases should serve as "lashes whipping at people's consciences" and ashamed officials promised immediate action.

The Supreme People's Court said last week it would show no mercy to child molesters.

It released a sample case ruling in which a primary school teacher accused of repeatedly raping and molesting seven primary schoolgirls from 2004 to 2011 would be executed.

It signals the perpetrators in the recent spate of molestation cases are likely to face the same ultimate punishment.

But what truly shocked the nation is that all eight cases that came to light last month involved teachers sexually molesting primary school pupils.

This raises serious questions about the quality and management of teachers in the nation's vast education system.

The most outrageous case involved a school principal and a government employee accused of sexually molesting six primary school pupils in hotels in Wanning and Haikou , Hainan province.

The mainlanders were further incensed by reports that the officials in Wanning initially tried to cover up the case by stopping the victims' parents from talking to the press.

In another case, a school principal in Anhui was accused of molesting nine young children over a period of 12 years before he was arrested.

A deputy minister of education told official media on Saturday there would be a policy of zero-tolerance on teachers who molested children.

There would also be a nationwide campaign, involving the ministry of public security, to prevent crime against children at schools.

But the cases have shed a rare light on the sorry state of China's education system, which places priority on results and neglects the psychological and physical health of students. Despite the fact that China has millions of prostitutes and on-line media are full of explicit sexual material, the subject of sex has remained largely taboo in classrooms and at home.

This has left many parents ignorant of what might constitute strange behaviour in children, or too ashamed to report it if their children are molested.

Schools rarely bother to check teachers' backgrounds and monitor their behaviour.

An example of this was the recent case of a known British child molester who was able to teach English in an international school in Beijing for a long time before being exposed.

More seriously, the authorities tend to cover up such cases, just like the officials in Wanning tried to do. This strengthens the belief that child molestation cases are much more prevalent than the cases chronicled in the media would suggest. Meanwhile, the unprecedented report on the ageing population, well documented in this newspaper in the past few days, has provided detailed evidence to support the popular saying that China is fast becoming a country where people will get old before they get rich.

The study found a third of elderly mainlanders have poor health and a quarter are struggling below the poverty line.

This illustrates the enormous challenge facing mainland authorities in providing adequate social security and medical care for the elderly.

Government-run pension funds are way off being fully funded to provide for the retirees, prompting officials to openly talk about extending the retirement age to 65 for men and 60 for women.

Since becoming party leader in November, Xi Jinping has constantly talked about pursuing the Chinese dream - realising the greatness of the nation under the leadership of the Communist Party.

State media have been ordered to promote this as a rallying point for the people.

Surely, properly looking after the country's old and young is something the whole nation must tackle immediately, before it starts dreaming about its greatness.