By Cui Xiaohuo
The woman at the center of a notorious child rape scandal involving officials in southwest China was sentenced life in jail on Friday.
Yuan Ronghui, a 37-year-old unemployed woman who forced 10 schoolgirls - some as young as 13 - into prostitution, was found guilty of forced prostitution, the Intermediate People's Court of Zunyi, Guizhou province announced in the first trial.
Under the Criminal Law, the maximum penalty for the offences is death.
Seven other people were charged in connection with the child prostitution ring, including four government officials and a school teacher in Xishui county. Each had paid to sleep with the schoolgirls against their will. They were each jailed for between seven and 14 years for child rape.
Feng Zhiyang, 43, a teacher at the Xishui No 1 Vocational School, raped two girls three times, paying around 100 yuan (S$21.09) each time. He was jailed for 14 years.
Legal affairs official Chen Cun, who raped one girl twice, was given 12 years, while Mu Mingzhong, a real estate company manager and county legislator, was sentenced to 10 years after being convicted of raping two girls twice at his office.
Driver Feng Yong; Li Shouming, who headed the county migration office; social security official Huang Yongliang and land official Chen Mengran each received seven-year terms.
The officials, the teacher and the manager deserved severe punishment under the law because they inflicted serious harm to the girls' health, damaged the social order and ruined the reputation of civil servants, the judge said.
They have 10 days in which to appeal their sentences.
The ring was uncovered last August after one of the victim's parents reported the case upon discovering her daughter was pregnant.
The court heard Yuan Ronghui had offered her apartment as a venue for the rapes between October 2007 and June 2008. She had two teenage accomplices who abducted the girls from a primary school and three junior high schools.
Under China's Criminal Law, rapists can be sentenced to between three and 10 years but child rapists, including those convicted of statutory rape, can be sentenced to life or even given the death penalty if they knew their victim was under 14.
Experts said they hope the Xishui case will become an important reference for judges nationwide on child rape cases.