China: Outrage as ‘Underage Prostitution’ Law Protects Child Rapists

Four government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials who gang-raped a 12 year old school girl in a small town in Shaanxi province in October 2011, have been charged with ‘prostituting an underage girl’. The local police have claimed that as the defendants had sexual intercourse with the girl in both September and early October respectively, the act does not fall under the definition of ‘gang-rape’ (even though the girl had been forced into sex).

In China, the penalty for child rape ranges between ten years imprisonment to the death sentence, while underage prostitution is punished by just three to ten years imprisonment and in some cases having sex with underage girls is not considered a crime.

Public outcry

The Shaanxi case is not the first time that Chinese government officials have saved themselves from harsh legal punishments by ‘reclassifying’ their crime. In 2009 alone, a large number government officials from Guizhou, Fujiang, Zhejiang and Sichuan [zh] all applied the same legal tactics to defend their own child rape cases.

Since 2008, People's Representatives have been [zh] calling for the replacement of the criminal law on underage prostitution with child rape. Earlier this year, representatives from the All China Women Federation put forward a joint-signature campaign during the People's Congress. However, their appeal has not been taken seriously. Those who are against the law amendment have not even responded publicly to the issue.

University Professor Xiao Xuehui has continued to push for the abolition of the underage prostitution law in a public forum organized by Netease after the Shaanxi case. This excerpt is from a transcript of her talk via China Elections [zh]:


‘Underage prostitution’ is another invention of this imperial dynasty. The ridicule premise of this crime is that the underage girl is a mature individual capable of making her own choice free from manipulation. The conclusion is to put a ‘prostitution label’ onto the victim of sexual crime. This is a double victimization of child victim under the name of Chinese law.


We should pay attention to the fact that all the people who have been charged under this criminal law have been government officials: a judge, the head of a Tax Bureau, a school principal, a town mayor, etc. The latest case in Shaanxi and the previous cases in Guizhou, Sichuan and Fujian are all similar. The purpose of the law seems to serve the purpose of the protection of government officials’ interests by reducing their responsibility in a crime. And it is quite a logical conclusion amongst common people.

History of the law

Some pro-government online commentators have tried to defend the Shaanxi police by quoting previous court cases. Critical netizens then started researching who was responsible for the legislation and interpretation of the law. Online magazine ACFun has a special issue on ‘Abolition of Underage Prostitution Law’ and traced the law back to the 1997 reform of the criminal law system [zh]. After the reform ‘underage prostitution’ was differentiated from child rape.

Weibo user Pu Can digs into the judicial record and finds out [zh] that:


Since 1997 a large number of cases have been tried under the charge of ‘underage prostituion’. Within three years, similar cases have increased 20 times. The former Deputy Judge of the PRC Supreme Court, Huang Xiongyao, further interpreted the law in 2003: “If the defendant does not know the girl is under 14 years old and sexual relations are mutually agreed without serious consequences, it should not be regarded a crime.” — The imperial dynasty is determined to help their officials to nourish their health. [Ancient lore believes that having sex with virgins will lengthen the life of a man]

Tianya forum user Girssonlin looks into Huang's legal point [zh] in detail:


Let's take a look at the most evil part of the interpretation: “The subject of this crime is very special. Not only that they are under 14, but also that they are underage prostitutes. If the defendant has sexual intercourse with an underage girl who is not a prostitute, it is rape. What needs to be stressed is that if the underage girls are doing this voluntarily, it is self-explantory that she is aware of the nature of her prostituting act. If the underage girls are under the control of or forced into prostitution by a third party, even if she is not aware of the nature of her act, the contextual evidence can still prove that it is prostitution.”

In simple terms, no matter if an underage girl is forced to have sexual relations or not, if there is a pimp, it is regarded as prostitution. It is obvious that the legal interpretation is designed to protect the criminal rather than the underage girls.

How can such a ridiculous interpretation exist in China? The answer may lie with Huang Xiongyao, deputy judge of the China Supreme Court between 2002-08, who was found guilty of corruption in January 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece in Hong Kong, Tai Kung Daily, has exposed that Huang has a ‘special interest’ in underage girls (via Xinhuanet [zh]).

Of course, the above facts still do not explain why the Chinese government still refuses to amend the law and protect the further victimization of children in China. According to data from the Letter Petition Office of the All China Women Federation [zh], reports of children sexual abuse cases increased from 135 in the latter half of 1997 to 2,948 in 1998, 3,619 in 1999 and 3,081 in 2000. The number of cases has also increased rapidly in the past few years.

Thumbnail image of little Chinese girl, by Flickr user jani rocafort (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


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