China's tightly controlled media reported on more than 400 cases of child sexual abuse last year, sparking renewed calls for change in a law that campaigners say waters down some offenses, a rights group reported.
The Hubei-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch group compiled 425 media reports of sexual abuse and attacks on children and minors in 2014, in a report which it hopes will highlight a lack of government focus on the problem.
"The sexual abuse of minors is an abuse of basic human rights, and we have a responsibility to express our concern," Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch founder Liu Feiyue told RFA in a recent interview.
He said that a majority of the abusers in reported cases were the victim's teacher, and called for a tougher safeguarding policy in the nation's schools.
"The government has a duty to protect young children, especially left-behind children in rural areas, because the people who are abusing them are usually their teachers," Liu said in a reference to children whose parents seek work in other cities, leaving them in the care of older relatives or friends.
"What are they doing to supervise schools? The government has a duty to protect the victims of sexual abuse and to prevent the sexual abuse of children," Liu said, adding that the cases reported in the media are likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Calls for repeal
Campaigners have already repeatedly called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to repeal a 1997 law which they say waters down the offense of rape.
Before 1997, sex with a person under 14 was deemed to be rape, regardless of whether or not consent was given, as children of that age were deemed incapable of giving consent.
But the introduction of the Sex Crimes Against Girls Law in 1997 led to the separate treatment of sexual contact with a minor from the existing rape law.
Defendants can plead ignorance of a child's age, and crimes under the law carry a maximum penalty of 15 years, compared with a maximum penalty of death under pre-existing rape legislation.
"Now that we have this concept of 'sex with girls,' a lot of child abuse cases are being categorised under it, which is overly lenient towards the perpetrators," Liu said.
Writer Li Hongyu, who has also campaigned for the law to be revoked, said signature campaigns have so far yielded no response, however.
"Any sexual relations with a person under 14 constitute rape," Li said. "There is no such thing as 'sex with girls'."
Li said the law was "evil."
"It extends leniency towards certain officials who want to extend their filthy paws towards underage girls," she said.
Li said the apparent rise in child abuse cases in China was likely linked to a lack of moral teachings in the wake of the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"There is a widespread lack of religious belief among Chinese people, and traditional morals were utterly thrown out during the Cultural Revolution," she said.
"This is a low point for morality in Chinese society."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.