Chinese rural children living without parents increasingly fall victim to sex abuses

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/25 19:18:41

Students in a village in North China's Hebei Province run back home after class is dismissed. Photo: VCG

 Eight-year-old Youyou knows that her 56-year-old teacher asked her to take off her pants every time he had a chance. "My teacher touched the place where I pee. It hurt," Youyou said.

But she doesn't understand why it happened.

The little girl is one of six victims of sexual assault by a primary school teacher in a county in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, surnamed Jiang, who was later criminally detained by the police, news site reported.

Most of the victims were left-behind children, away from their parents, being taken care of by either their grandparents or distant relatives.

Ten-year-old Xuanxuan, who was also assaulted by Jiang, has been living with her uncle and aunt. Her father is in prison and her mom left her after a divorce.

"Jiang would target anyone depending on his own mood, students from first grade or third grade," Xuanxuan told her uncle. Medical records showed that her hymen had been broken.

 Left-behind children in China, who lack attention from adults, are vulnerable to predators. The children are also easily targeted because of a lack of sex education and a general taboo around the subject in villages, said experts.

Sense of being abandoned 

The term left-behind children refers to children whose parents have left rural areas to become migrant workers in towns or cities, leaving behind their children either unsupervised or in the care of relatives or neighbors.

Tragedies happening to left-behind children are common.

An underage girl from a county in Hubei Province eventually committed suicide after being assaulted four times in a month by her neighbor. She was also staying with her grandparents since her parents were working in another city.

Many grandparents or older relatives in their 70s or 80s who are asked to take care of the children in rural areas lack education about sex abuse.

Their only goal is to make sure those children do not starve and remain alive, Zong Chunshan, director of the Beijing Youth Legal and Psychological Consultation Service Center, told the Global Times.

Left-behind children usually have a sense of being abandoned by their parents, which leaves them suffering from emotional loss and insecurity, so they are easily manipulated by others, Zong said.

As of 2016, China had 9.02 million left-behind children, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

In 2017 the reported cases of child sex abuse were 378, involving more that 606 victims. In total 90.43 percent of the victims were girls and 9.57 percent were boys. Most victims were 7 to 14 years old, according to data released by the Girls Protection Fund of the China Foundation of Culture and Arts for Children in 2017.

Protect themselves

Compared with urban children, child victims of sexual assault from rural areas are less easily detected, the report said.

Information in villages is relatively sparse, Zong explained, adding that traditional culture in China's rural areas and the lack of privacy make people very ashamed to speak up.

However, He Xuefeng, director of the China Rural Governance Research Center at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, who has been conducting research in rural areas across China, told the Global Times that "the occurrence of sexual assault in villages are extreme cases."

Media reports of sexual assault cases in villages have put the issue under a public spotlight. But generally speaking, relations between parents and children, teachers and students in China's rural areas are serious but very harmonious, He said.

After the prevention of sexual assault cases was put on agenda, many villages started to educate children about sex. But He warned that sex education conducted in rural areas might break the harmony and give wrong ideas to villagers about sex, since the instruction is normally unqualified.

About 55.17 percent of rural children have never received any education on how to prevent sexual abuse, the report said.

Sex education would make youngsters know how to protect themselves when assaulted and at least identify if they are sexually assaulted, but the promotion of sex education has been difficult and even disapproved of by some schools and parents due to their traditional mindsets, Zong said.

However, the fundamental solution for sexual assaults for left-behind children is to improve the local economy, Zong said. "Left-behind children are the easiest group in villages to target for sexual assault, a group that lacks care and attention."

A gender imbalance that has created a surplus of  men in villages also contributes to sexual assault, Zong added.

Newspaper headline: Easy prey

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