A comprehensive government plan to prevent child molestation in schools was a decent gesture, but unlikely to reduce widespread sexual abuse of children, experts and parents say.
The plan, issued by four central government departments including the education ministry and police on Tuesday, goes some way to addressing the problem, they say. But new guidelines, such as barring men including fathers and teachers from entering girls' dormitories without a dorm counsellor's consent, failed to address the real causes of the problem and identify children most at risk.
The plan also urged schools to promote awareness of sexual abuse of pupils, and warned that local government departments would be punished for dereliction of duty if there were several child molestation cases in their jurisdictions.
The plan follows public anger over numerous high-profile child sexual abuse cases this year. Dozens of cases have come to light since May, when a principal and government official in Wanning city, Hainan , were convicted of taking Primary Six girls to hotel rooms for sex.
Several middle schools in Beijing and Hangzhou contacted by the South China Morning Post said they were only just learning about the plan. Some teachers did not know it existed.
Many experts and parents doubted that the new orders would really make things better.
Li Ying , deputy director of the Women's Law Studies and Legal Aid Centre at Peking University, said simply banning men from girls' dormitories would not stop assaults, because in many cases it occurred elsewhere.
"It's more of a government gesture than an effective measure," she said.
She believed local governments should be accountable for any child molestation case, rather than being punished after a couple of such cases occur, as the plan suggested.
She was also disappointed that no special rules were rolled out to protect children of migrant workers, those who are left behind in rural areas by their parents, or those who are mentally disabled. These were the three groups of children most vulnerable to sexual predators, she said.
The lack of guardianship, especially among these groups, was the main factor that allowed child sexual abuse to occur, according to a research report by the China Children and Teenagers' Fund released this month.
Sun Yunxiao , deputy director of the China Youth & Children Research Association, called for harsher punishment of offenders in addition to more education and stricter administration at schools.
"Legislation must stay in line with these efforts," he said.
Wang Wen , a mother of a teenager in Shanghai, agreed that strict punishment should be the top priority, instead of "keeping girls away from men, like in feudal society".
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 Law in 1997 - has created a legal loophole on the mainland.
Legal experts have called for the controversial charge to be abolished, saying it had directly led to a surge in sexual offences against underage girls.
It is also believed that the issue is probably much more serious than reported, with most victims remaining silent about assaults out of shame or parents' concerns over their reputations.