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    One-Third of Child Sex Abuse Happens at School, Report Suggests

    Due to a lack of sex education in schools and parents’ reluctance to broach the subject, many children in China remain vulnerable to sexual predators.

    Girls’ Protection, a Beijing-based nonprofit, has released three reports on sexual abuse cases involving minors, compiled from media reports from 2019 as well as two surveys on sexual health issues.

    The reports were released at a press conference Monday, in the presence of several delegates from the National People’s Congress. The delegates are likely to raise some of the issues touched on in the reports during the “two sessions” — high-profile meetings of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies — in the coming week.

    Here are some key takeaways from the documents:

    Report on sexual abuse

    From analyzing 301 media reports about the sexual abuse of minors in 2019, Girls’ Protection found that 70% of the accused perpetrators were known to the victim and included teachers, family members, and neighbors. Meanwhile, 34% of all alleged sexual misconduct occurred at schools, the report said.

    “The data shows that a significant portion of sexual abuse cases involving children occurred at schools,” Zhang Rongli, an associate professor at China Women’s University’s School of Law, said in Monday’s press conference.

    Experts at the gathering said schools should strengthen reporting mechanisms to prevent such cases by providing workshops for teachers, building databases of people with a history of child abuse, and installing surveillance cameras in both classrooms and offices to deter misconduct.

    Sexual abuse involving minors has recently drawn wide attention on Chinese social media. In late April, over 80 students from a middle school in the city of Mianyang, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, accused their former teacher of sexual harassment, leading to his arrest in early May.

    In December, China’s education ministry announced a teaching ban for those judged to have caused an “adverse societal impact,” though such punishments can be as short as five years. The ministry stressed that it has a “zero-tolerance stance toward educators who sexually harass students.”

    Last year, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate announced a plan to “establish and improve” a national database of people who commit sex crimes against minors. In 2019, Shanghai authorities fired or rejected applications from 26 individuals with histories of sexual abuse after revieweing the profiles of some 270,000 people in the city who work closely with minors.

    Survey on parents’ awareness of child abuse

    A survey on the awareness of child abuse showed that a rising number of parents and guardians were more informed about such misconduct, with 57% having read media reports about child abuse cases last year compared with 43% in 2015. Over half of the respondents said they believed they’d be able to tell if their children experienced sexual abuse from their behavior.

    More than 32,000 parents of children 18 or younger participated in the nationwide survey. Many said they paid close attention to the adults who were in regular contact with their children, and preferred those of the same sex as their kids.

    However, the survey revealed that a majority of parents were unaware that most child abusers are family members or acquaintances of their young victims.

    “Due to conservative habits and societal perceptions, many couples (who knew their children were being sexually abused) were reluctant to report the case to police,” Zhao Wanping, an NPC delegate from the eastern Anhui province who has researched child sexual abuse in rural areas, said during the press conference.

    According to a 2020 national survey on the sex lives of university students, 57% of over 50,000 respondents said they had never talked about sex with their parents, compared with less than 1% of students who said the subject came up with their parents “often.”

    Survey on adolescent sexual health

    According to this survey of some 3,600 children aged 10 to 18, over 78% said they had not been taught sex education. More than 40% reported having little knowledge of the changes their bodies would go through during puberty, such as menstruation and nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams.

    Just 5% of the surveyed minors said they had had sex. But 4% of respondents — or 80% of those who weren’t virgins — said they had become pregnant or made their partner pregnant, and 3.4% of respondents — over two-thirds of those who had had sex — said it was not consensual.

    Nearly 9% of respondents said the had experienced sexual abuse, and over 62% said they would’t know how to prevent it from happening. Only one-quarter of respondents said they had a “good” understanding of contraceptives and practicing safe sex.

    “At the age of 14, many girls do not have sufficient knowledge of sex or contraceptions due to lack of sex education in China,” said Zhu Lieyu, an NPC delegate who plans to propose raising China’s age of consent during the two sessions.

    In April, a teenager’s allegation that her foster father had raped her for years since she was 14 drew wide attention on sexual abuse cases involving minors. In China, the age of consent for sexual activity is 14, though some policymakers hope to see this benchmark raised to 16.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Creative/People Visual)