Reports of child sexual assault rose by more than 27% in 2016 from a year earlier as China’s judicial authorities grew more willing to publicize cases, particularly in rural areas, a new study shows.
Yet the study’s official data — 433 reports involving 778 victims under age 14 nationwide last year — represents only the tip of China’s sexual abuse iceberg, said Sun Xuemie, whose advocacy group, Girls Protection Foundation, released the figures Thursday.
Sun’s group, a division of the government-backed China Culture and Arts Foundation for Children in Beijing, has called for addressing the problem with more openness and education.
Indeed, the group, in a separate report, said nearly 90% of 2,000 children under 14 surveyed had never received classroom instruction about sexual assault issues. The Ministry of Education encourages schools to help students and their parents guard against sexual abuse.
The nationwide study said sexual abuse reports involving children in rural areas for the first time surpassed the urban caseload. Rural incidents accounted for more than three-fourths of all cases in 2016.
The jump in reports between 2015 and last year indicated public concerns are rising, and judicial authorities such as prosecutors are more willing than ever to publicize cases, Sun said.
Interest among officials has risen in the wake of several high-profile incidents in recent years.
For example, in 2013 the nation’s media trained a spotlight on the rape convictions of a primary school principal and a housing registration official in Wanning, a city in the southern province of Hainan. The principal was sentenced to 13.5 years, and the official 11.5 years, for assaulting six girls in a hotel room.
Among last year’s cases, the report said, nearly 70% of the perpetrators were known to the children. They included the victims’ teachers, neighbors and family members.
More than three-fourths of the children who reportedly were victims of sexual abuse last year were 7 to 14 years old. But some victims were as young as 2 years old.
Nearly one-third of the children said they did not know how to react when assaulted.
China should better protect children through a nationwide mobilization of agencies, including courts and education officials, said Song Wenzhen, an official with the National Working Committee on Children and Women. The committee is affiliated with the State Council, China’s cabinet.
For instance, Song said, a unified mechanism for identifying potential victims among schoolchildren should be implemented by schools, rural communities and urban neighborhoods. Once identified, these children should be protected.
By Zhang Congzhi, Li Rongde and Sheng Menglu