Sex education urgently needed in China amid surging cases of child molestation, says non-profit
Reports of child sexual abuse in China seem to have become more frequent. In August, a Chinese man was arrested for molesting his adopted underage sister at a train station. Photos taken by witnesses were circulated on the social media, arousing widespread public indignation. Last week, allegations that children were sexually molested in a kindergarten in Beijing, owned by a New York-listed Chinese educational services provider, has once again caught nationwide attention.

Although Beijing's authorities later determined the sexual abuse claims in the high-profile case to be unfounded, the parents are not convinced. They complain that even the nursery fee of 5,000 yuan per month could not shield their kids from pedophilia. “People have begun to worry about the rising incidence of child molestation, while in my view the problem has been haunting for a while although we just learnt about it in recent years because of extensive media coverage,” said Xu Hao, a People's Daily journalist who's now engaged in the Protecting Girls Project, a charitable movement committed to raising awareness among minors and their parents.

Back in mid-2013 when the initiative was launched, similar tragedies were happening. In May of that year, a school principal and a government official were charged with raping six primary school girls in south China's Hainan province, triggering a national outcry. And eight child molestation incidents were brought to light by the media in the ensuing month. Feeling the urge to do something, nearly a hundred female journalists got together to initiate the Protecting Girls Project. Meanwhile, the group also embarked on a campaign to advocate for the crime of sex with underage prostitutes to be repealed.

Although the establishment of the law was intended to increase the protection of minors, in practice, it had helped rapists escape harsher punishment, as they could argue that the underage girl had consented and was paid. Efforts of the media professionals paid out. On August 29 in 2013, the controversial law was abolished 18 years after it was passed.

Xu Hao told part of their job is to push for legal and institutional changes. On March 2 each year, jus before the annual “Two Sessions” kicks off, Protecting Girls organizes a seminar attended by deputies to the National People’s Congress and delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, along with officials from relevant government departments and experts in the field. “Working with them, our ideas could be formed into proposals and submitted to China's legislative body for deliberation,” Xu said.

At the current stage, the initiative aims to include courses teaching children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse into regular kindergarten and primary education. And their volunteers are also lobbying to set up a system for sexual offenders against children to be marked in a bid to build safer communities. “(Legislation) would be a comparatively long process and although it could not be achieved in a one-time try, we expect to see some differences soon,” said Xu Hao.

Besides advocacy endeavors, the charity has centered its resources and efforts on teaching children to detect, prevent and save themselves from risks of being sexually abused. Different from the sexual education textbook compiled by the Beijing Normal University that has stirred up controversy by using “plain” language and illustrations to explain sexual behavior, Protecting Girls recommends more moderate ways to deliver the message to minors.

“For example, we don’t just blurt out names of sex organs. We tell kids that no one should be allowed to touch their body parts covered by tank tops and shorts for no particular reasons,” Xu explained. He admitted it is quite difficult to carry out sexual education in China, so they turn to teaching children skills to handle risky situations, so even when they are molested, they would know how to report the incident to their parents or persons they trust.

The non-profit organization has spent over half a year on researching related knowledge and practices at home and abroad, soliciting expert ideas while working on pilot projects. The fruit has been a teaching plan of 40 minutes targeting children in kindergartens and primary schools. “The teaching plan has been amended over 50 times by now, because we need to make sure the contents would help minors instead of affecting them in any negative ways,” Xu said, noting they would rather take their time than rushing for any short-sighted goals.

The charitable organization now boasts several thousand volunteers who're mostly professionals like reporters, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants and nurses. After passing a quite strict trial lecture and attending classes given by experienced lecturers, they get to teach the course to children in schools or kindergartens across the country. By the end of September, the 40-minute specialized class has been taught to over 1.7 million children in 28 provinces in China, with its online editions gaining tens of millions of views.

With rising incidence of high-profile cases in recent years, efforts made by non-profits like Protecting Girls are known by more people, although stale ideology in the country still would challenge their work.

Our volunteers once met a primary school principal in prosperous coastal province in southeast China. He asked if it's possible for us to avoid the word of “sex” during our class. “The lack of sexual education is a problem in the society now. If children from the RYB kindergarten have been taught something about it, they would have clearer idea about what they're going through.”

It's known that the controversial textbook by the Beijing Normal University has been promoted for 10 years, while only 17 schools are actually using it.

In October 2013, four government departments including the Ministry of Education had called on the education sector to teach students, especially female students, to raise self-protection awareness, know what sexual assault is like and learn how to ask for help when they're assaulted.

According to Xu, they've done a survey about its implementation. “Some schools and parents said they're willing to do the teaching although there is no suitable textbook,” said Xu, noting it seems the country still needs a cast-iron mechanism to push for the accessibility of the much-needed education. 


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