2017-08-15 13:31:41

Police in southwestern China are investigating the case of an abandoned baby whose mother is a 12-year-old girl, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Monday.

Following a tip received last Friday, police in Yibin, a city in Sichuan province, found an abandoned newborn girl in the grass under an elevated highway and alerted medical services. A hospital technician said that upon arrival, the infant was not crying and felt cold to the touch. Her body temperature has since returned to normal, and she remains in hospital care, as her birth appears to have been premature.

On Sunday, the Nanxi District government discovered that the baby’s mother was 12 years old, still a child herself. The mother’s parents, in turn, are migrant workers living away from home with their 13-year-old son, leaving their daughter and her grandparents behind in the village.

A local government official told The Paper’s reporters that neither the girl’s grandparents nor her homeroom teacher noticed the pregnancy, adding that the girl did not ask for a leave of absence before the start of the current summer holiday. She is now recuperating at home, the official said. The father of the newborn baby has not yet been identified.

Sun Xuemei, founder of Girls’ Protection, an NGO devoted to protecting children from sex abuse, told Sixth Tone that an Yibin-based volunteer for the organization said this case has shocked the entire city. “I am very concerned that public opinion may ‘murder’ this child,” Sun said, referring to the tendency for some Chinese communities — especially in rural areas — to make young victims of rape feel ashamed.

In China, the age of consent is 14 years old. All sex with children under this age constitutes statutory rape. “Because the 12-year-old girl became pregnant and had the baby, this case pertains to the term ‘resulting in other serious consequences,’” Sun said, referring to a Chinese legal phrase commonly used to determine an appropriate sentence. “[Her rapist] should be sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment of no less than 10 years.” The girl and her family should also ask for civil compensation, Sun added.

In March, Girls’ Protection released an investigative report stating that in 2016, Chinese media organizations uncovered 433 cases of children under the age of 14 being molested, an increase of more than 27 percent compared with the previous year. These cases concerned a total of 778 children, of which over 92 percent were girls. Victims between 12 and 14 years old accounted for nearly 58 percent of the total. The report concluded that child safety education in China is severely deficient.

On top of that, three-quarters of all cases happened in rural areas. “Girls’ Protection is promoting sex education in both rural and urban areas, but in the countryside, the need is more urgent,” Sun said.

In February of last year, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a guideline on strengthening care for rural left-behind children, defining this group as those under 16 years old either with parents who have both migrated across the country for work, or with one parent who migrates for work while the other is incapable of providing effective guardianship. In November, an official investigation found that there were 9 million left-behind children across the country, 62 percent of whom are aged between 6 and 13. And in fact, doubt has been cast on the official figure, given that the state-backed All-China Women’s Federation estimated the number of left-behind children to be 61 million just a few years prior, in 2013.

Left-behind children face the potential danger of stunted emotional and social development, said Wei Jiayu, secretary-general of the New Citizen Program, a Beijing-based NGO advocating for the well-being of migrant children. “They will feel sensitive and inferior when socializing with others, which often makes them become more reserved,” Wei told Sixth Tone. “But this is all hidden — the people around them will not notice.”

Many left-behind children are placed in the care of their grandparents, but in Wei’s opinion, the role of parents in children’s growth is irreplaceable. “Cross-generational care is not a very beneficial thing for children,” he said. “The age gap and the required dedication make it hard for [grandparents] to be as competent as parents.”

This article has been updated to clarify the legal definition of statutory rape.

Editors: Matthew Walsh and David Paulk.

(Header image: Shi Liu/VCG)