Under-age sex charge puts China's top court and legislature at odds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 5:06pm

China’s top court and top legislature are at odds over the abolition of a notorious criminal charge of having sex with the under-age, according to a Beijing Times report.

The Supreme People’s Court supports abolishing the charge of “soliciting underage girls for prostitution” and replacing it with child rape, while the National People’s Congress has reservations about the move, the report said today.

The disagreement was revealed in their official responses to a petition to abolish the charge by an NPC delegate, it said.

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.

The maximum punishment for this charge is 15 years, while child rape can carry the death sentence.

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. Sun Xiaomei, NPC delegate and also a senior member of the All-China Women’s Federation, is one of the campaigners against the criminal offence.

Sun, also a professor of Woman’s Studies with China Women’s University, told the newspaper that the Supreme Court and NPC law committee gave her different answers on the matter when she approached them.

The Supreme Court responded to Sun in July that they fully supported her cause, adding that the young prostitution charge should be abolished because it generates logical incoherence with the criminal law, which defines any sexual intercourse with an underage as rape entitled to severe punishment.

The top court also said the young prostitution charge would hurt the reputation of young victims for life, cause stress for parents and draw protests from female rights organisations.

The abolition would not be difficult in practice because there were less than 40 cases a year, the top court added.

But the NPC law committee told Sun that the young prostitution charge came to existence for good reason and any hasty abolition would not reduce sexual abuse on underage women.

The NPC said there was huge divergence in opinions on whether the young prostitution charge should be abolished or not, and they’d be very careful in suggesting the abolition.

One of the main reasons the NPC law committee gave Sun for its view was that many cases involving the young prostitution charge fail to get to court. They said that the charge itself wasn’t the problem, but rather the reform should address law enforcement surrounding it.