In the wake of a string of child sex abuse scandals in recent months, and the jailing of an activist who launched a campaign against them, a group of top Chinese women lawyers from across the country has joined forces to represent the girl victims of sex attacks.
"When we saw these sorts of things happening, first just one case, and then more and more of them, we saw that this is a widespread phenomenon," said Beijing-based rights lawyer Huang Yizhi, one of the founders of the group.
She said the lawyers want to ensure that underage girls making complaints about sex abuse will get fair treatment in the judicial system.
"Their rights and interests are very seldom protected," Huang said. "Maybe their abusers don't get a judicial punishment, or maybe [the girls] are abused a second time, which is very serious from the point of view of children."
"That's why we decided to see what we could do to help them as lawyers," she said. "We should be able to help them."
The initiative comes after a series of sex scandals involving underage girls prompted widespread public anger and calls for a review of Chinese laws last week.
Official media reported that six primary schoolgirls aged around 10 and 11 were taken by a headmaster and a government official to hotels in Hainan island's Wanning city and sexually assaulted.
The news 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.
Meanwhile, police in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have detained a women's rights activist who launched an online campaign against the sexual abuse of schoolgirls, sparking widespread opposition online.
Hours after activist Ye Haiyan tweeted on Thursday that she was being attacked in her home, an announcement on Guangxi's Yulin municipal police department's verified Sina Weibo account said she was being held under administrative detention for wounding three women with a knife.
The statement, which gave no details on how long Ye would be held, garnered thousands of angry comments, as well as an article in the Beijing News calling for clarification of the length of Ye's administrative jail term.
Zhejiang-based rights activist Wu Bin said he had been called in by police for questioning after he penned an online article in support of Ye.
"On the summons document they gave me is written 'suspected of stirring up the public mood,'" Wu said in an interview on Monday. "I had written an article about Ye Haiyan on Saturday, so it probably has to do with that."
Wu said the police had refused to answer public questions about Ye's detention.
"The excuses they gave [for detaining Ye] just don't stand up," he said.
Calls for review
The recent scandals have prompted calls 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 Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.