Online course seeks to protect children from sexual assault

An online course designed to help children protect themselves from sexual assault and molestation will be offered for the first time in the upcoming semester to fourth-and fifth-grade students in Shanghai primary schools.

The course, created with cartoon images and interactives, provides simulations to educate children on appropriate responses should someone try to touch or talk to them inappropriately, offer them rides or introduce them to pornography.

The course also includes an introduction to puberty and the physical and mental changes children undergo.

More than 500 cases of sexual assault of children younger than 14 were reported last year in the country, a fourfold increase over the previous year, according Protecting Girls, a project of the China Social Assistance Foundation.

"The cases that have been exposed may be just the tip of the iceberg from our understanding of the situation," Ni Chunxia, an officer of relief management at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said in March at a meeting seeking more attention for child safety.

The online course shows children how to defend themselves, how to report incidents to authorities and how to seek medical treatment. It urges children to call for help right away and try to remember details that will help police catch an assailant.

Child protection experts said such lessons are important because some children are not aware of the seriousness of a sexual harassment or molestation, or are afraid and do not inform their parents.

The course was developed with student input from a school curriculum created in 2011 by a primary school affiliated with the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. It was promoted to all elementary schools in the municipality's Yangpu district in 2013.

Ding Limin, headmaster of the primary school that developed the course, said most students and their parents have been satisfied with the project.

"We're the first school in China that launched such a course, which all the parents and education experts believe is significant. We want to make an evaluation of its impact on the children's personality, their attitude toward sex and their understanding of life in the long term," she said.

Another online course for students in grades one to three focusing on "telling the kids where they come from", will also be available next year, said Zhang Zhiyun, an editor at Shanghai Education Press and the project planner for the online course.

Zhou Wenshu, a public relations specialist in Shanghai, said the access to such education is enviable.

"All of the six women in my university dorm had encountered various kinds of sexual harassment, but nobody told us how to react even when someone laid hands on our private parts. Most of us kept it quiet," Zhou said.

"It should be a part of school education officially," she said.

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