Chinese Rights Activist Detained After Anti-Child Abuse Campaign

Reported by Luisetta Mudie
china-ye-haiyan-may-2013.png A screen shot taken on May 31, 2013 of the Yulin municipal police department's announcement on Ye Haiyan's administrative detention.
Screen grab via Sina Weibo

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have detained for assault a women's rights activist who launched an online campaign against the sexual abuse of schoolgirls, police said in a statement, 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.

"Ye Haiyan, who took a knife and deliberately injured three women, has now been placed under administrative detention by the Bobai county authorities according to law," said the tweet posted to the Yulin police department's verified Sina Weibo account on Thursday.

The statement, which gave no details on how long Ye would be held, garnered more than 7,000 comments by Friday, many of them angry.

Ye sent out three tweets around midday on Thursday, calling for help during a raid on her home while she was there alone with her 13-year-old daughter.

"Four to five women are beating me up right now," her first tweet said. "Please help me; call the police. It's just me and my daughter."

Campaign against Hainan child sex scandal

The detention came after Ye launched a huge online campaign in response to a child sex scandal at a Hainan primary school, in which women posted pictures of themselves in front of signs which read: "Principals: If you want to get a room, get one with me. Leave the schoolchildren alone."

The police announcement sparked a slew of criticism, thumbs-down emoticons, and calls for more detailed information on Sina Weibo on Friday.

"Why did she deliberately injure others?" inquired a tweet by user @shangguanzhicheng. "I want to know the reason!"

"Will you be happy when the school principal has violated your children?"

"You are a very long way from the masses now. Don't you have a sense of crisis?" added @xiaoshidebazhongdui.

User @guren911 added, in a sentiment that was echoed in a number of other comments: "So our homes can be entered at any time now, and we're not allowed to kick them out?"

"You go into someone's home, and attack them 10 to 1, and they're not supposed to defend themselves?" said @shuobazouba.

Series of school scandals

A series of sex scandals involving underage girls prompted widespread public anger and calls for a review of Chinese laws last week, after 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.

Guangzhou-based filmmaker and university professor Ai Xiaoming continued the campaign following Ye's detention, with a topless photograph of herself, with the words "Leave the schoolgirls alone. Leave Ye Haiyan alone," scrawled in marker pen on her skin. In one hand, Ye holds a pair of half-open scissors, a weapon often associated with women in Chinese film.

"This is my body, which is all the proof that I have borne and suckled children," she wrote on the Google Plus social network.

Well-known activist

Before the anti-child sex campaign, Ye had already won an online reputation for her radical approach to rights work, spending a day as a prostitute in January in order to better understand the issues faced by "10 yuan a day" sex workers.

Ye was also among four women who appeared nude in a photograph by outspoken artist and social critic Ai Weiwei, titled "One Tiger, Eight Breasts." Ai's subsequent investigation for "pornography" sparked an online campaign in which netizens posted nude photos of themselves in his support.

Sex crimes law

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.

Last November, more than 95 percent of netizens who responded to an online poll supported making "child abuse" a specific offense under Chinese criminal law.

The International Union for Child Welfare in 1981 defined "child abuse" as consisting of "neglect or abuse" of children by family members and institutions, or of exploitation outside the home in the form of child labor or prostitution.

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