China's Judicial Authorities Push to Abolish Legal Clause of Crime of Underage Prostitute Solicitation

  • January 13, 2014
  • Editor: Nancy Sun
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China's Judicial Authorities Push to Abolish Legal Clause of Crime of Underage Prostitute Solicitation
The crime of soliciting underage prostitutes may be abolished after China's top judicial authorities showed support to a move to give better protection to minors, a deputy to the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) said in December. []
The crime of soliciting underage prostitutes may be abolished after China's top judicial authorities showed support to a move to give better protection to minors, a deputy to the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) said in December at a seminar on prevention of sexual assault against girls.

Concerns of Supreme People's Court

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) said in July in its reply letter to the 12th NPC deputy Sun Xiaomei's proposal on abolition of the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes in China's Criminal Law that it would urge China's legislators, the Legal Working Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC to establish a project to research on and change the current laws on having sex with underage prostitutes. Court officials also told media that that if legislators don't change the laws, they will issue guidelines urging them to do so.

The SPC pointed out that if offenders, who sexually assaulted girls aged under 14, were then charged with this crime, then these girls would be labeled as "prostitutes," which will damage their reputation.

Under current law, the charge of soliciting a prostitute under the age of 14 can result in five to 15 years in jail. Rape charges, however, can command from three years in prison to the death penalty. Advocates have argued that this distinction creates a loophole in the law that fails to protect children from sex offenders.

Prior to 1997, all those charged with rape, regardless of the age of the victim, were severely punished under the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China. However, the law was changed in 1997.

In comparison, laws in many other countries state that sex with an underage person is rape, regardless of whether it was consensual or not, with the understanding that before a certain age, a child is not capable of legally giving consent. U.S. law, for example, regards sex with minors as statutory rape, with offenders subject to punishment by jurisdiction.

The SPC officials said diminishing penalties for rape by classifying minors as prostitutes is a contradiction because it insinuates that they have the autonomy and authority to choose prostitution as a career, according to the Xinhua report. China University of Political Science and Law professor Ruan Qilin told the Global Times that the law can help offenders avoid harsher penalties, which may encourage more sexual assault against young girls.

The SPC made the comments as a response to Sun Xiaomei, a deputy to the 12th NPC, following her continuous appeal for the abolition of the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes since 2010.

The SPC said that abolishing the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes is fundamental to solve the chaotic overlap of the crimes of rape and underage prostitution.

The law gained attention last year after a group of government officials from central Shaanxi Province who paid to have sex with a 12-year-old girl were given sentences that many children's-rights advocates said were too lenient. The court classified their crimes as "sex with an underage prostitute", which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, rather than rape. But child-protection advocates argued that a 12-year-old girl—regardless of whether she received payment—isn't old enough to consent to having sex with bureaucrats.

In an even earlier ruling in May 2009, seven people, including five government officials, in Xishui county, southwest China's Guizhou Province, were jailed for terms from seven to 14 years on charges of soliciting underage prostitutes, even though the 10 teenage girls, including three who were under 14, were forced to do so.

Policy and Guideline on Sexual Assault

Advocates say the current law is outdated and based on traditions established during imperial times, when the emperor had a myriad of concubines, many of whom were young women.

In 2009, public security authorities arrested 175 alleged offenders on charges related child-sex cases, compared with 176 in the four-year period from 2000 to 2004, according to Zhen Yan, vice president of the All-China Women's Federation.

An ACWF study has also shown that 68 percent of perpetrators in child sexual assault cases are acquainted with the children. On average, the abuse goes on for about 4.8 years and findings show that parents, teachers and other people close to the children are often unaware of what is happening. In some cases, teachers who are aware of colleagues sexually abusing students have turned a blind eye to the situation.
In response, China's Ministry of Education, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice jointly issued a policy in 2003, stipulating that teachers must report sexual assault cases that happen in schools or risk dismissal. However, the policy has so far not been effectively implemented.

In October, an inter-department guideline released states that teachers and public servants will be given harsher punishments for sexually assaulting minors. It vows "maximum protection" for the victims and "minimum tolerance" for the offenders.

People who have special duties with children, such as teachers, and have sex with girls under the age of 14, regardless of whether the act is consensual or not, will be charged with rape, which is punishable by at least 10 years in prison and even death, according to the guideline, which was jointly unveiled by the SPC, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice.

The guideline also stipulated that probation should be limited in cases related to sexual crimes against minors, and said if a suspended sentence is given, the courts should ban offenders from taking jobs and joining activities related to minors during their probation period.

Calling for Proper Sex Education

Moreover, experts have been calling on enhanced sex education for minors. Susie, an official from the Ford Foundation (Beijing), said at a conference that sex education is helpful for children when it comes to preventing sexual assault, but she prefers a more comprehensive sex education system.

"The surroundings should be changed to contribute to sex education among children," she said. "For example, the police, school, law, society and parents should strive to work together to prevent sexual assault from happening."

Experts also pointed out at the conference that in comparison to many Western countries, China still lacks a comprehensive system of sex education and a lot of adolescents learn about sex online.

"Parents should be the first to teach their children about sex, while schools should then take over the responsibility of offering them regular sex education," said Yu Huili, a psychological health teacher for migrant children at Beijing Normal University. She added that they have compiled textbooks on sex education for migrant primary school students.

Yu Zhengjun, a middle school teacher in Mianyang City in Sichuan Province, said that teachers in western rural areas should be trained in teaching sex education. He said that many rural left-behind children whose parents have left them at home to work in the cities are vulnerable to sexual assault. Lower education levels and outdated ways of thinking in the rural areas make the situation worse. As such, it is crucial for rural primary and middle schools to cultivate well-qualified sex education teachers.

(Source: and edited by

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