China’s first laws designed to protect minors from sexual harassment on school campuses, including excessive physical contact and suggestive messages and images, are now in effect in the city of Hangzhou.
The new rules prohibit teachers from any type of “sex-related” intimate behaviors with children and cover students in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools.
The Hangzhou Xihu District People’s Procuratorate and the Hangzhou Xihu District Education Bureau on Monday jointly announced the laws, which were publicized by state-run newspaper People’s Daily.
Any such behavior that is carried out on minors younger than 14 constitutes sexual harassment, regardless of whether the minor is willing.
Previously, there were no laws governing the management of sexual abuse cases in schools, though sex with someone younger than 14 is illegal in China.
Under the new laws, school staff must report allegations to school authorities within six hours of receiving a student report of inappropriate sexual behavior. In turn, school authorities must report cases to local law enforcement within 24 hours.
The measures also outline “relief” options for victims of sexual harassment, including psychological support, judicial assistance, legal aid and adjustments to dormitory living settings or school courses.
The laws were introduced to help bring cases of sexual harassment and abuse in classrooms to light, Zheng Lei, head of the Minor Procuratorate of the West Lake District Procuratorate, told the state-run Beijing News.
“Cases like these are often ignored because it is difficult to obtain evidence,” he said.
The sexual treatment of children in schools has remained a deeply entrenched problem in China. A 2017 study conducted by the Girls Protection Fund of the China Foundation of Culture and Arts for Children found that teachers and school staff were the leading perpetrators of sexual abuse against children between the ages of 1 and 14.
Chinese state media Xinhua in 2016 revealed 968 cases of sexual abuse against children were recorded nationwide between 2013 and 2015. They involved at least 1,790 children, but many more were believed to still be unreported, according to the report, which cited the Girls’ Protection Foundation.
So far, schools in Hangzhou have responded positively to the new laws. A spokeswoman from Hangzhou International School said they would make city schools safer, though tangible results would take time.
“I think in a few years, there will be a great change,” she told CNN.