Unspoken shame

CHINA - When prosecuting and public security authorities jointly released an order on Oct 24 stipulating harsher punishment for perpetrators of sexual assault against minors under 12, the move was greeted with enthusiasm from the public. But experts warn that sex education is still urgently needed to protect children from being abused.

This year, news headlines have been dominated by stories of children, both girls and boys, being sexually abused, mostly by teachers and acquaintances.

Although there are no national statistics, in Guangdong alone, more than 2,500 girls, half of them under the age of 14, have been sexually abused over the past three years, according to China News Agency.

Studies have found that one reported child sexual abuse case represents six to seven unreported incidents, according to Liu Fengqin, a psychiatrist with the Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center, a non-government organization which provides psychological intervention to women and children suffering from sexual abuse and domestic violence.

But the thing that concerns Liu the most is how unprepared parents and children are to deal with child sexual abuse.

"Our society is too shy when it comes to talking about sex. Children generally receive no sex education, and teachers even avoid telling students about reproduction in textbooks," Liu says.

"How can children protect themselves if they have no idea of what is happening when someone sexually abuses them?"

At least one fourth of women seeking help from her have been sexually abused as children. Some victims didn't even understand what had happened until they grew up, Liu adds.

One of the victims Liu has helped is a girl in Hunan province, who was identified as Si Si in media reports. Si Si became the center of a national scandal when she had a baby at age 12.

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