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2013-10-25
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Heavier penalties for child rapists

Global Times (2013-10-25 P02)
By Huang Jingjing

Teachers and public servants will be given harsher punishments for sexually assaulting minors, an inter-department guideline released on Thursday stipulated, while vowing "maximum protection" for the victims and "minimum tolerance" for the offenders.

People who have special duties with children, such as teachers, and have sex with girls under the age of 14, regardless of whether the act is consensual or not, will be charged with rape, which is punishable by at least 10 years in prison and even death, according to the guideline, which was jointly unveiled by the Supreme People's Court (SPC), the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice.

Against a background of growing child sexual assaults, the newly unveiled guideline has drawn wide discussions following a strong appeal for the abolition of the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years in prison and is widely considered as a law that may help offenders avoid harsher penalties.

"The guideline is an effective supplement to the current legal system and aims to better deal with child rape and protect the rights and interests of underage victims," said Lü Xiaoquan, a lawyer from Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center.

"But it's a pity that the fundamental problem (abolishing the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes) is yet to be solved," he said, noting that the lighter penalty will only give room for more violations. "We think that anybody who has sex with kids under 14 should be charged with rape."

In a ruling in May 2009, seven people, including five government officials, in Xishui county, Guizhou Province, were jailed for terms from seven to 14 years on charges of soliciting underage prostitutes, even though the 10 teenage girls, including three who were under 14, were forced to do so.

Those who have sex with girls under 14 by luring them with money or other property, or who already know or ought to know the girls were forced into prostitution, will be charged with rape, the guideline said.

"Some teachers, by taking advantage of their posts, under the excuse of supervising homework, molest young children by hiding themselves behind their podiums from other students. Such crimes are appalling," Sun Jungong, the SPC's spokesman, told a press conference on Thursday.

Previously, there was controversy over whether the crime of "molesting in a public site" could be verified if others at the scene did not see the offense. But the new guideline states that regardless of whether others see it or not, the crime shall be affirmed as long as it happens to minors in public sites including schools, swimming pools and amusement parks.

According to incomplete statistics, within 20 days in May, at least eight child sexual assault cases by teachers were reported in provinces including Hainan, Hunan, Anhui and Shandong.

In the case that seized the most attention, Chen Zaipeng, then principal of a Hainan primary school, and Feng Xiaosong, then a local housing bureau official, sexually assaulted six schoolgirls.

The guideline also said that public servants or people posing as public servants convicted of child molestation or rape will receive heavier punishments.

"This particular rule displayed the authorities' concerns over its image among the masses," Zhang Qianfan, a law professor with Peking University, told the Global Times. He noted that the frequent involvement of officials in child rape cases led to damage to the authorities' credibility.

Such cases can easily trigger social criticisms once officials are involved, which will intensify the conflicts between the authorities and the public.

In Daguan county, Yunnan Province, Guo Yuchi, an official, was sentenced in September to only five years in prison for raping a 4-year-old girl, causing an outcry among locals. In October, a higher-level court in Yunnan ordered the case to be retried, saying the sentence was clearly inappropriate.

The guideline also stipulated that probation should be limited in cases related to sexual crimes against minors, and said if a suspended sentence is given, the courts should ban offenders from taking jobs and joining activities related to minors during their probation period.

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