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2021-03-27 05:14:36

A man imprisoned for raping and impregnating a 10-year-old girl in Shandong has become the first person in the eastern province to be sentenced in a case filed through China’s recently instituted “mandatory child abuse reporting mechanism.”

The top provincial public prosecutor shared details of the case on Friday, explaining how it resulted from mandatory reporting rules enacted nationwide in May to curb the underreporting and late reporting of child abuse.

They require people in close contact with minors, including those working in schools, hospitals, and hotels, to immediately report any suspicions of a child being harmed to the police. Failure to do so can lead to being held criminally responsible. Police have to accept such cases and immediately investigate them.

Within a four-month period after the mandatory reporting mechanism was put into practice, nearly 500 cases were prosecuted under the system. The Shandong case is among the first for which details were made public.

Earlier this month, the country’s top public prosecutor shared a case in which two people managing a school in the central Hunan province were charged with dereliction of duty after they had noticed child sexual abuse but failed to report it.

Before the mechanism was enacted, two common challenges with child sexual abuse cases were a lack of evidence due to late reporting and police being unwilling to investigate, Shenzhen-based attorney Lai Weinan told Sixth Tone.

“Many victims won’t report their cases right after they get abused,” said Lai, who has experience aiding child abuse victims. “So it’s hard to collect evidence and in the past police responded slowly to such cases — they had little clue to how to handle them.”

In the Shandong case, the 10-year-old’s abuse was first reported by a doctor in the city of Weihai, who saw the victim in August, discovered she was 21 weeks pregnant, and alerted the local health authority. A police investigation began the next day, the public prosecutor said.

By questioning the girl just once — which experts advise for child victims — and doing DNA testing, police were able to find the perpetrator. In accordance with the wishes of the girl’s family, the girl underwent an abortion and was transferred to a new school. The public prosecutor’s account did not specify the relationship between perpetrator and victim.

The case inspired widespread discussion on Chinese social media on Friday, with a related hashtag receiving over 900 million views. While many applauded the efficiency of new mechanism, some questioned whether the man’s sentence was too light.

He had been charged under the crime of rape, which carries penalties of between three and 10 years in prison. But the maximum sentence can be as severe as the death penalty in cases where the victim is under the age of 10 and injuries were caused. Because this was the case, the court increased its sentence to 12 years.

Child abuse experts said the publicity around the case is helpful. “The awareness of the mechanism remains low even among those who work closely with minors, let alone among the general public,” said Zheng Ziyin, deputy director of the minor protection committee under the All China Lawyers Association. “More education is needed to make more people aware of it,” he told Sixth Tone.

A social worker from the Beijing-based NGO Children’s Hope Foundation, which supports child victims of abuse, said the implementation of the mandatory reporting mechanism marks a new phase in China’s efforts to protect minors. “We’ve been closely following the changes it brings about — with cases reported immediately, victims’ rights can be properly protected,” she told Sixth Tone, declining to be named. 

“We hope the Shandong case can serve to inspire more people to get engaged in the fight against sexual abuse targeting minors,” she said.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: People Visual)