The families of six primary school victims in an underage sex scandal in China's southern Hainan island are dissatisfied over what they consider to be light jail terms handed down to a former principal and local official convicted of the rape of the girls, according to the father of one of the victims.
The father, identifying himself only by his surname Xiao, said the families were pressured by local authorities on the choice of lawyers to represent the girls, who may miss out on further schooling in the wake of the scandal, and are considering whether to pursue further legal action.
He said he was "very unhappy" with the sentences handed down to high-school principal Chen Zaipeng and local official Feng Xiaosong by the Hainan Provincial No.1 Intermediate People's Court on June 20.
Chen, former principal of Hainan's Wanning No. 2 High School, was found to have taken four girls aged 11-14 to a hotel while Feng had taken two girls of similar age to another hotel, both on the evening of May 8, official media reported at the time.
The girls weren't pupils at Chen's own school, but studied at the Wanning Houlang Primary School and the Wanning Siyuan Experimental School.
Chen was sentenced by the court to 13 years' imprisonment, while Feng received an 11-year jail term after both men were convicted of raping underage girls. The Hainan High People's Court upheld both the convictions and sentences on appeal last month.
"These sentences were simply too lenient," Xiao said in an interview with RFA's Mandarin Service this week. "Of course it's totally unjust."
"I said so at the time, when it came to court."
Told not to hire mainland lawyers
Xiao said all the families of the victims had been approached by the authorities and told not to hire lawyers from out of town for the trial.
"They told us, 'This thing took place here, so don't go hiring lawyers from the mainland. Hire one from here,'" he said, adding that the families may consider further legal action.
"We agreed to this, but now that the case is closed, we don't know whether to continue legal action or not, now," he said.
He said the lawyers made available to the victims' families told them to pursue a civil compensation suit, but appeared to be unfamiliar with relevant legislation.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Wang Yu said the families' lawyers had failed to inform their clients about ways to appeal and to seek compensation.
He said the families should have been informed of their right to appeal the sentences within five days of their being handed down.
"They didn't know this, and their lawyer didn't tell them," Wang said. "So the case has been hastily closed."
He said the families' lawyers had also failed to tell them that they could have included a request for compensation to be appended to the criminal proceedings.
"So they didn't know [that, either]," said Wang, during a trip to Wanning to deliver donated funds to the victims' families.
No school admission letter
Xiao said the families now feared the girls would be excluded from their schools as a result of the scandal because they had not yet received an admission letter.
"We went to the school to ask why we hadn't yet had an admission letter from the school, because you have to have that letter to go to school," Xiao said.
"But now the case is over, no one pays us any attention."
He said his daughter, along with the other victims, was still suffering from the after-effects of her experience.
"[She's] OK some of the time, but some of the time she's like a crazy person," he said.
Beijing-based health charity Yirenping said in a recent statement that none of the girls now wanted to go out, and were all suffering from mood swings, saying they no longer wished to attend school for fear they would be discriminated against by their teachers and classmates.
Wang said the top priority for the local government should be to ensure that the girls could continue their education in a safe environment.
"These kids are still very young, and it's not as if they can just go out to work," Wang said. "They need to make sure that they're not the victims of discrimination in school."
Underage sex scandals
Last week, Yang Qiongwen, a journalist at Hainan's Nandao Evening News who covered the case closely, "handed in his notice" of resignation, his colleagues said.
The Hainan sex scandal was followed by reports from nearby Zhanjiang city that a primary school principal surnamed Zheng had lured two sixth-grade primary school students to a dormitory on the pretext of "revision coaching" and raped them repeatedly since the beginning of May.
Similar cases have been reported in recent years in Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Fujian provinces, sparking widespread anger and allegations from netizens that underage sex has fast become a "perk" expected by Chinese officials.
The recent scandals have prompted calls from a group of top female lawyers for a review of China's laws on sex with minors.
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, lawyers say.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.