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Harsher penalties for sex with underage girls

Xinhua, August 25, 2015 Adjust font size:

China is planning to close a loophole that allowed some men to get away with relatively light penalties after having sex with girls under the age of 14. The move follows public outrage over the lenient treatment of high-profile offenders including government officials and a school administrator.

A proposed amendment to China's penal code calls for eliminating the charge of "prostitution with underage girls." If the measure is approved, sex with girls under 14 would be considered rape and subject to harsher penalties, including death, regardless of whether the girl gave her consent.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee deliberated the draft amendment to the Criminal Law as its six-day bimonthly legislative session began yesterday.

Under the current law, people who have sex with girls under the age of 14 face a maximum of 15 years in prison, while those convicted of raping a child may face a death sentence.

Legal professionals have been questioning whether to scrap the crime of sex with underage prostitutes since it was written into the Criminal Law in 1997. The legislature has carried out multiple investigations on the issue and consulted academics and specialists.

"There is no need to define such a crime. Having sex with minors should be considered rape, no matter who she is and what she does," said Jia Chunmei, a prosecutor from north China's Hebei Province and an NPC deputy, during a legislative session last August.

The conflicting provisions had helped offenders escape harsher punishment, as they had argued that underage girls had consented and were paid, Jia said.

Gu Yongzhong, an expert with the All China Lawyers' Association, said having sex with underage prostitutes was "extremely vile" and needed to be cracked down on.

Although establishing the crime of sex with underage prostitutes was intended to protect minors, in practice it led to lighter penalties and complaints from victims' families, Gu said.

When the criminals who had sex with underage girls were government officials, the public reacted even more strongly to lenient sentences, said Lao Dongyan, associate professor of the Tsinghua University Law School.

The crime imposed a stigma on young girls who might have been forced into prostitution, but as victims of the crime were then labeled as "prostitutes" forever, he said.

In 2009, eight people, including four government officials and a teacher, were jailed for terms from seven years to life for child rape in southwest China's Guizhou Province. Yuan Ronghui, an unemployed woman who abetted and forced 10 schoolgirls into prostitution in Xishui County from October 2007 to June 2008, received a life term handed down by local court.

Yuan offered her own apartment as a venue for the offenses, after her two teenage accomplices abducted schoolgirls, three under the age of 14, from a primary school and three junior high schools, the court heard. Seven other people were jailed for terms of seven to 14 years after being convicted of child-rape.