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China makes under-age sex rape

BEIJING (Agencies): China has repealed a 1997 law governing sex offences against minors after a nationwide campaign by women’s groups and rights advocates claiming that legislation watered down the crime of rape and instead of discouraging, actually encouraged child sexual abuse.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee issued a legislative amendment cancelling the Sex Crimes Against Girls Law, which had led to sexual contact with a minor being treated under a different category than the existing rape law.

“Sexual relations with a girl under 14, regardless of whether coercion is involved, regardless of whether the perpetrator is aware that the victim is under 14, will be regarded as rape, with a mandatory heavy penalty and a maximum penalty of death,” the committee said in a directive dated August 29.

Under the previous law, defendants had been able to plead ignorance of a child’s age, while crimes under the law carried a maximum penalty of only 15 years, leading campaigners to dub it a golden ticket for sexual predators.

Radio Free Asia reported Wu Rongrong, the founder and executive director of the Hangzhou-based rights group, Women Centre, as saying that the move was a necessary one.

“Under the previous crime, there was no protection for the rights of girls, because the crime of sexual activity with underage girls was considered much less serious than that of rape,” Wu said.

“The crime of rape should have applied all along, because this crime of sexual activity with girls was just a legitimising excuse for rape.”

Wu said many cases that should have been tried as rape were tried under the old law in recent years.

“But we know that there is extreme damage done to the victims,” she said. “In particular, there was a case in Guizhou where the girls were very young indeed.”

Media in China reported 425 cases of child sexual abuse during 2014, the Hubei-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch group said in a report earlier this year.

Liu Feiyue said poverty-stricken rural children who have been left behind in their hometowns by migrant worker parents, are particularly at risk of abuse.

“They are often sexually abused by their teachers, but what is the school management doing about it?” Liu queried. “The government also has a responsibility towards the victims of sexual abuse, who suffer great damage as a result.”

Public debate on the issue in state media has largely been focussed on how the change will outlaw sex with underage prostitutes, a common practice in China.

“When the criminals who had sex with underage prostitutes were government officials, the public reacted strongly to the lenient sentence instead of tougher punishment when sentenced as rape,” Xinhua quoted Tsinghua University law professor, Lao Dongyan, as saying.

China has seen a string of child rape and sexual abuse cases in Hainan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan and Fujian provinces in recent years, sparking widespread public anger amid allegations from netizens that underage sex has fast become a perk expected by Chinese officials.

A string of scandals prompted calls for action on the law.


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