Code highlights 'extreme' lack of sex education in China

Chinese children get a feel what their mothers experienced during pregnancy, at a sex education class in Beijing on December 9, 2010.
PHOTO: Code highlights 'extreme' lack of sex education in China

The lack of sex education, especially concerning how to prevent abuse of young children, is in the spotlight following the release of a code of conduct at a primary school in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province.

The code, which has been distributed to students at Meiling Primary School, tells pupils that "body parts under shorts and underwear should never be touched by other people", and that "you should tell bad people's secrets to teachers" and "you can lie to bad people".

Ma Jifen, a sixth-grade teacher at the school, defended the new code.

"Many children in my class have reached puberty and have questions about their bodies. With the newly released code of conduct, I have the chance to discuss the issue with them and answer their questions."

Zeng Fanlin, a professor from the preschool and special education school affiliated with East China Normal University in Shanghai, said: "The younger the children are, the more vulnerable they could be to abuse. Children cannot express themselves as well as adults. They may be abused if guardians are not paying attention.

"Physically or intellectually challenged children, and those living in rural areas, are the most vulnerable group," Zeng said.

"Many children may not even realise that they are being abused or were abused.

"Though China introduced legislation to protect children and women in the 1990s, the laws are not well enforced."

Ignorance about sex may also be a factor. According to a national survey, launched by a protection programme for girls under the China Social Assistance Foundation in 2013, which interviewed 235 primary schoolboys and 219 girls, about 61 per cent of children did not know what sex education was, while around 22 per cent said they "seemed to know".

When asked how they would react if people tried to touch their private parts, around 24 per cent said they would not know what to do or how to get help.

About 44 per cent said they would shout or scream.

The survey also interviewed 902 parents of primary school students and 64 per cent said they never gave any sex education to their children, and 56.49 per cent never showed their children how to prevent sex abuse.

"One of the main reasons that many children get abused is the extreme lack of sex education in China," said Zhu Zhengfu, vice-president of All China Lawyers Association. "To many children, teachers or parents are the authorities. When the authorities abuse them, maybe they don't even know how to get help."

According to statistics by Huaiyin district in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, most offenders had an existing relationship with the victims, either as teachers, neighbours or relatives.

Over the last three years, the local procuratorate dealt with 14 cases involving 17 sex offences perpetrated on children. Some of the offenders arrested had abused children for years.

In 2013, the media reported a spate of sexual assaults on children.

In December, a former county official in Yunnan province was sentenced to eight years in prison for raping a 4-year-old girl.

In June, an official in Henan province was sentenced to death for raping and sexually assaulting 11 girls, the youngest of whom was 9 years old.

In May, a principal at a primary school and a staff member from the local housing authority in Hainan province were sentenced to 13 and 11 years in prison for raping six sixth-grade students.

"I cannot wait for schools to compile books and train teachers to teach sex education and how to prevent my daughter from being abused," said Jin Yue, a Nanjing resident, who has a 5-year-old girl. "I take every opportunity to teach her how to protect herself.

"For example I told her to say no to other people trying to kiss her or hug her closely."

Jin said she hopes that Chinese schools will be more active in teaching sex education because "it's necessary and is nothing to be ashamed of". Some cities have taken the initiative.

Since June 2013, the women's federation in Guangzhou has distributed 70,000 brochures teaching primary and middle-school girls how to protect themselves.

"Besides having discussions, showing pictures and performing related dramas, the teachers need to repeat again and again self-protection to children," Zeng said.

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