Parents around China lavished their children with fancy gifts, sumptuous dinners and joyful outings on Saturday for this year’s International Children Day. Several days earlier, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate did something much more meaningful for children, announcing that the authority will develop a national database of sex crimes against minors.
Around the globe, children are afflicted with the pain of sexual abuse at a shocking magnitude.
According to UNICEF, around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide have been raped. According to studies by David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center in the U.S., one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. A search for news reports of the term “pedophiles” on English websites will turn out hundreds of thousands of results.
Western countries have long established websites with databases of sex offenders. The U.K. has databases that not only track and investigate convicted offenders, but also run updated locations of or developments on each offender. The U.S. National Sex Offender Public Website, run by the FBI, enables every citizen to look up the latest information from across the country for the identities and locations of known sex offenders.
In China, the general public is not fully aware of the severity and scale of sexual crimes against children, a very vulnerable group.
Sun Xuemei, who initiated the Girls Protection charity program, revealed recently that courts around the country gave verdicts on 11,519 cases of child molestation between 2015 and 2018, but the actual numbers of sexual abuse against minors might be seven times higher.
Shang Xiaoyuan, a researcher at Beijing Normal University, claims her research showed that about 8 to 12 percent of the country’s 270 million people aged under 18 have been the victims of sex abuse and/or assault. Many forms of nonphysical sexual abuse, such as voyeurism, are even more difficult to expose and track.
As a major step toward tackling the problem, a child sex criminal database that the Supreme People’s Procuraterate plans to build will be very helpful because in many cases, pedophiles are habitual and serial offenders. Richard Huckle, a British pedophile, was sentenced to life in prison by a U.K. court in 2016 for sexually abusing more than 200 children in Malaysia.
With such a database, parents and schools can do background checks when hiring teachers and childcare workers. Interpol’s Child Sexual Exploitation database holds more than 1.5 million images and videos and has helped identify more than 17,500 victims and over 8,000 offenders worldwide.
But to protect our children, more needs to be done. Sex education should be improved at kindergartens and schools, and destigmatization is needed among children to encourage young victims to expose the perpetrators. Parents should also increase their awareness and receive more training on how to prevent child sexual abuse and on what to do when their children unfortunately become victims. Government agencies, schools and volunteer groups should also pay special attention to “left-behind” children whose parents have left their hometowns to work in other parts of the country.
(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)