Child abuse: the blot on our social conscience

A series of child molestation incidents have renewed public awareness of a problem that defies easy solutions.

A series of incidents involving children molested in public places has surfaced on social media in China in the past few weeks, raising anew concerns about what authorities are doing to address the problem of pedophilia.

Last weekend, a witness captured photos of a man molesting a young girl at Nanjing Railway Station. The photos showed him putting his hand inside her dress while two people, presumed to be her parents, sat alongside and didn’t intervene.

Police said the perpetrator, identified only as an 18-year-old man surnamed Duan, was later caught in Henan Province. The girl was identified as his 14-year-old adopted stepsister. Authorities said they are also investigating the legality of her adoption by Duan’s parents. 

Last week, a netizen on Weibo posted a photo of a man in Chongqing molesting a girl in a hospital's waiting room. Police arrested a 49-year-old man surnamed Du and said he was the girl’s uncle, who had taken her to the hospital because he thought she was ill. The girl, whose parents are divorced, lived with her uncle and grandmother.

Netizens last week also reported that a series of children pornography videos entitled “Jiangsu Mr Liu” was making the rounds on the Internet. Jiangsu Province police later explained that the filmmaker was arrested last year but they haven’t traced the people still spreading the videos.

Child sexual abuse is an emotional but sometimes buried issue in China. Many people see it as an example of the moral decay that occurs when traditional values are overrun by modern mores. Others say that the reported cases are just the tip of the problem because of social taboos about airing sexual matters in public. 

According to the Girls’ Protection Fund, an arm of the China Juvenile Children’s Cultural Arts Foundation, there were 433 reported cases last year of sexual molestation of children 14 years or younger. In 300 of the cases, the perpetrators were acquaintances of the victims, including relatives, teachers and neighbors.

Most caseworkers and experts in the field of child molestation say that only about one in seven cases of abuse are reported, and many perpetrators are never brought to justice.

In 2014, Fang Xiangming, a professor at China Agricultural University, submitted a report to the World Health Organization that estimated nearly 10 percent of children in China had experienced some sort of sexual abuse. He said that might mean up to 25 million victims.

Sun Xuemei, co-founder of the Girls’ Protection Fund, says many people are in the dark about sexual abuse.

“Take the Nanjing case for example,” she says. “The case provoked widespread concerns on the Internet, but the apparent guardians didn’t realize anything was wrong with Duan’s actions. The little girl didn’t appear to protest. Many people just didn’t know that it’s wrong.”

Could the lack of sex education in society be partly to blame?

A Girls’ Protection Fund survey of 9,000 parents in China revealed that some 90 percent of the parents were reticent to discuss sex with their children, preferring to leave that to schools. Many parents never tell their children about sexual harassment or warn their children to avoid situations where it might arise.

Sex education has always been a thorny subject among conservative thinkers in China.

In March, several elementary schools in the city of Xiaoshan in Zhejiang Province had to recall sex education textbooks after parents complained that the contents were too graphic. The textbook used cartoon-style pictures to explain human sex organs and reproduction. It also warned children not to let others touch their “private parts.”

“We hope that sex education will one day be a universal feature in the education system,” says Sun. “Children need to know how to protect themselves and to identify situations that are not correct. And parents need to stop being too ashamed to discuss sexual matters with their children. That’s very essential.”


Legislation on children pornography still missing

Hand-in-hand with the issue of child sexual abuse is the problem of children pornography. 

Recently, netizens revealed that a TV celebrity named Xu Haojie was the founder of a gay pedophile website.

Xu, 27, famous for winning the championship on Anhui TV’s reality show “Super Speaker,” was active on social media, with millions of followers.

First netizens discovered that he was a close follower of 300 accounts on Weibo that sold or shared photos and videos of underage boys. He was also found to have posted child sex innuendos on various websites.

Upon further digging, netizens discovered that Xu had registered the domain name Shota, which means “little boys” in Japanese, on the website of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Xu’s website, probably approved by authorities who didn’t know Japanese, sold pictures and videos of young boys in compromising poses.

Xu tried in no avail to defend himself on social media, but his Weibo account was blocked and Shota closed down. However, there has been no legal action against him reported so far.

Producing and spreading pornography is banned in China, but there is no separate legislation related to child porn. 

Legal experts say there should be much stricter laws on the crime, as is the case in most Western countries.

“Pedophilia is a very serious social issue,” says Yao Jianlong, professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. “In many countries, possessing, watching or reading children pornography are all felonies.”

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