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Sexual abuse poses severe danger to rural children


07-27-2016 12:56 BJT

Today we will end our Rural Recovery series on a heavy note: child sexual abuse in rural China. We lack official numbers to demonstrate the magnitude of such crimes, but compiled media reports from 2015 showed that more than 70 percent of the victims were between 7 and 14 years old. The lack of care and surveillance  makes children especially vulnerable. Our reporter Feng Xin traveled to a village in Tieling, in Liaoning province, where several young girls have fallen victim to one particular predator over a long period. Feng Xin hears the voices of the victims’ families and looks at what can be done to better guard China's rural children. The names of the victims and their families have been changed.

The days have been dark for Mr. and Mrs Li, as they consider the court’s verdict after nine months of prosecution. The predator, who molested their 12-year-old daughter Lily and raped three other girls, has been sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison. But the Li family believes that the sentence was too lenient.

"I’m absolutely discontented with the ruling. How can he just get away after causing so much harm to our children here?" Mr. Li said.

"My daughter said, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school any more. I don’t.” Her father cried, and I cried. The three of us just held each other and cried together. I said, “Baby, I can’t live if you quit school," Mrs Li said.

The Lis survive on a small section of land by growing corn. They leave their house to farm in the very early morning each day, and their daughter often has to stay at home alone during the weekends and school holidays.

It wasn’t until July 2015, that Mr. Li found Lily with a new cell phone. She told him that a 60-year-old man who lived across the street gave it to her.

"He texted obscene language and pornography to our daughter. I was just shocked," Mr. Li said.

To Mr. Li’s surprise, those texts also mentioned the names of several other girls in the village. Mr. Li called the police, who arrested the man and found two other cell phones in his possession. It turned out that the offender often shot nude images of the young girls and filmed himself raping them.

Mrs. Liang still can’t accept the fact that her granddaughter Weiwei was only nine years old when she was first raped, and that the offender is a family relative. The rapes occurred more than a dozen times over the past three years. Most of the crimes took place in their very own house while the adults are away. Weiwei’s parents were seeking a living in the city, so it was Mrs. Liang who raised Weiwei.

"I asked my granddaughter, ‘How could you not tell me anything?’ She said, “If I told you, he would kill me. You would also beat me and kill me.’ The man threatened and terrified her," Mrs. Liang said.

Prosecutors brought three rape and two molestation charges against the defendant in March, but the court did not support one of the molestation charges. That's because there was only a child’s words against the defendant’s. And there wasn’t any physical evidence to prove anything that happened seven years ago.

"She still remembered the clothes she was wearing on that day, when we went to police interview last year. She grabbed me really tight and buried her face in my arms. She cried and was extremely terrified, as if she was in huge shame. Every child is a part of a mother’s heart. No mother can accept such abuse of their child," Ms. Lu said.

After multiple attempts to reach the prosecutor’s office and court, no judicial officials made themselves available for comment.

This village is 40 kilometers away from the nearest city. Few can imagine that several young girls have fallen victim to rape and molestation so many times and for so many years. Across China, the media reported 340 child sexual abuse cases last year, almost one every day. Experts say that's just the tip of the iceberg, because many more cases remain unspoken. About one third of the reported cases occurred in rural areas. Experts say that doesn’t mean child sexual abuse is any less severe in the countryside than in the cities. It’s just much harder to be exposed and reported.

Beijing lawyer Shao Juan volunteers to teach children about sexual abuse prevention. She has found that nearly 70 percent of such crimes were committed by acquaintances. Prosecutions and convictions often prove difficult to achieve.

"The biggest difficulty is collecting evidence. Because of various reasons, many cases went unreported. This not only led to additional crimes but also to a loss of evidence and ineffective prosecutions and investigations," Shao said.

Volunteers and NGOs have been seeking measures to prevent child sexual abuse in urban and rural areas. One way is to teach children to protect their private body parts, recognizing danger and seeking help.

"We hope to make more children – in fact all children in China – receive our classes. Also, I think we should increase penalties for predators. If the cost of crime is high, perhaps people are less likely to commit," Xu Ping, executive director of Children Safety Fund of The Amity Foundation, said.

But for the children who never had a chance to learn about the dangers around them, the wounds can never be healed.

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