Ten Guangxi villagers have been found guilty and sentenced to prison terms for sexually abusing an 11-year-old primary school girl, Chinese media has revealed, underscoring the vulnerability of “left behind” children and the government’s policy of increasing protection for them.
A local court found each of the accused, who come from a village near the city of Yulin and are aged between 40 and 70, guilty of having abused the victim multiple times over the past two years, the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported on Wednesday.
One of the abusers, who was 60 years old at the time, had intercourse with the girl 15 times, the court heard.
The defendants and their family members asked for leniency as they argued the girl had accepted money after each of the abuses. But the judge found nine of the defendants guilty of rape, and one of child molestation. Those guilty of rape were sentenced to between 7 and 11 years in jail and child molestation conviction drew two-and-a-half years.
Under China’s legal system, adults found having sexual intercourses with children under the age of 14 are charged with rape. In some circumstances, however, the sexual relations are ruled as “underage prostitution” if there is clear evidence to indicate that offenders were unaware of the age of the child and there was an element of prostitution involved in the case.
The victim, who lived with her grandparents when the offences occurred, is part of a group dubbed the “left-behind” children, whose parents are absent because they are working in more economically-developed areas.
She is only one among tens of million such children in China. The Sixth National Census conducted in 2010 estimated there were over 60 million “left behind” youngsters nationwide, mostly living in inland provinces with backward economies.
A report on child sex abuse published by government-led China Children and Teenagers’ Fund in September concluded that the children of immigrant workers accounted for the majority of sexual abuse victims, no matter whether they were left behind in rural homes or living with their parents in cities.
In the Baoan district of Shenzhen, for example, the victims in migrant families accounted for 88 per cent of child sexual abuse cases, according to the report. In Huazhou city, also in Guangdong province, 94 per cent of all victims were “left behind” children.
China has seen a spate of child-rape cases in recent years, often generating public anger and sparking calls for tougher punishment for offenders.
The situation has prompted China’s top judiciary to step-up protection for minors from sexual predators. A judicial interpretation published by Supreme People’s Court in late October indicated those accused of having sex with a girl under the age of 12 could not longer claim that they didn’t known she was minor.
Yet a number of legal experts have expressed the concerns that the new interpretation has left loopholes regarding offences involving the children aged between 12 and 14. They have urged the government to ensure “absolute protection” for all children under 14 years old