Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Duncan Hewitt
in Shanghai

Teenage prostitution case shocks China

Many in China accept prostitution as being normal
Many in China accept prostitution as being normal

In China there has been a shocked reaction to a prostitution case involving teenage high school girls.

A court in south-western Yunnan province recently jailed one girl for four years and passed suspended sentences on nine others aged between 16 and 18.

They were accused of involvement in an informal prostitution racket involving more than 50 high-school girls in the provincial capital Kunming.

Local media described it as a case which has brought pain to the whole of Chinese society.

In a country where it is not rare for poor rural girls to be forced into prostitution, the trial seems to have aroused far greater outrage. The girls were charged not only with prostitution but also introducing others, some as young as 13, to the racket.

Men in the spotlight

What has caused most shock is that the girls, many described as good students, apparently took part voluntarily, with friends introducing friends. And according to state media most were motivated not by absolute poverty but by curiosity.

Many said they were impressed by the wealth and power of their clients, mainly local businessmen and officials, who took them to luxurious hotels and gave them relatively large sums of money — paying even more if the girls were virgins.

In a nation where teenage sex is considered shocking, the case has rung alarm bells — one leading sociologist said taboos about sexual matters mean children actually receive little education about either sex or morality.

The case has also provoked rare criticism of the men involved, in a society where many men see visiting prostitutes as normal behaviour.

State media said the network of men who sought out younger and younger girls should take much of the blame. Parents and lawyers also expressed anger that the men's influential connections — and China's vague laws on prostitution — meant very few of them were punished.

One local newspaper quoted a judge in the case as saying China needed tougher punishments for men who use prostitutes — otherwise he said cases like this would send a message that men with money and power could avoid justice.

China's criminal code does include a crime of buying sex from a under-age girl — but this applies only when the girl is under 14.

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Created: January 2, 2003
Last modified: January 3, 2003
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