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Esther Teo, Lina Miao
Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014

Asia

Shh! Let's talk about sex early

The Straits Times | Esther Teo, Lina Miao | Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014

Primary school pupils in Qionghai, Hainan, learning self-defence tactics to protect themselves against sexual attacks. University students have been volunteering as teachers to help educate schoolchildren about sexual abuse by giving verbal explanations as well as video demonstrations.

Student Qin Xue remembers being just nine years old when she first saw a couple having sex on a television show, but it was not until four years later that she had her first sex education class in school.

"My parents have spoken to me about sex and how to protect myself from sexual predators, but most of my understanding of it comes from the Internet and TV," the 14-year-old student admits.

This scenario is one that plays out across China, where discussions about sex - a topic often seen as shameful in conservative Chinese society - are conducted in hushed tones, or a little too late.

But the rise in the number of sexual assaults on minors being reported has drawn attention to the dearth of frank discussions about sex in the country.

Sexual assaults made up more than a quarter of the 346 criminal cases, including physical abuse, targeting minors in Beijing last year, according to a report by the Beijing High People's Court. More than 80 per cent of these sexual assault victims were under 14.

A separate government report noted there were 125 cases of sexual abuse against minors last year - a record number for China.

In May last year, for instance, in a headline-grabbing incident that opened the floodgates for other allegations to follow, a primary school principal in southern Hainan province was accused of raping six pupils in a hotel.

More recently, in March this year, allegations surfaced that the directors of a prestigious gymnastics academy in central Hunan province, which has churned out six Olympic medallists, repeatedly molested at least six young girls.

Experts say lack of awareness, parental negligence and flawed safety systems - such as the lack of regular patrols in schools and age checks at hotels - are often to blame for sexual assaults on children. Those in rural areas are the most vulnerable.

Despite government guidelines last September recommending an increase in sex education in the wake of the sordid scandals, many schools offer physical health classes instead, because blushing teachers rush through the typically taboo topic of sex.

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