Like most minors nationwide, 11-year-old Lin Weilan has never heard of sexual harassment, even though the problem is of increasing concern to parents and lawmakers in China.
A public security education guide for primary and middle school students released by the Ministry of Education has made sexual harassment, natural disasters and campus violence part of safety education for minors.
According to the guide, schools are required to teach students how to deal with incidents.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," said Lin, a primary school girl in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province.
"When the spring semester started last week, my daughter told me that the school would add a new course to teach them how to deal with various safety problems, including sexual harassment," said Lin's mother.
"The course will help my child protect herself in case of sexual harassment," the mother said.
"Sex" has always been a taboo in China. Teachers usually shy away from sexual content in physiology courses and parents feel uncomfortable talking about it in the family.
Most schools and universities in China have physiology courses, but these courses generally fail to deal with sexual harassment and ways to avoid sexual attacks.
"It is easier for sexual predators to take advantage of minors who know nothing and have not been forewarned. Nationwide, the number of cases is increasing," said Zhang Xuemei, deputy director of the legal assistance office of the Chinese Juvenile Rights Protection Center.
The Law on the Protection of Minors enacted in 1991 made sexual harassment of minors a criminal offence.
In the past five years, the Shaanxi provincial Women's Federation has dealt with more than 50 cases of sexual harassment of female minors. "Dozens of girls under 14 years old were involved," said Ning Huanxia, head of a local minors protection association.
An online survey made by the website of the China Children's Press and Publication Group showed that more than half of the 6,164 interviewees had no idea about what sexual harassment was.
About 27 percent of the interviewees said only girls could be sexually harassed and 26 percent of them thought that only strangers could be responsible. One third of the interviewees had no idea that same-sex harassment could exist.
"The new course aims to make children aware of the potential threats around them and teach them how to protect themselves," said Hu Chaoying, schoolmaster of Lin's school, adding that the course includes games and activities.
"I've heard and read many news reports about the sexual harassment of minors, but I don't know how to set about educating my daughter. I am grateful that the school will run a course on the topic," said Lin's mother.
(Xinhua News Agency March 9, 2007)