Guarding the Vulnerable
With an increasing number of child sexual abuse cases coming to light, society needs to stand up and take action
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Cover Stories Series 2015> Tackling Child Sexual Abuse> Archives
UPDATED: July 25, 2014 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 19, 2013
Watching Over Our Children
Crimes against minors could be reduced by better legal protection and safety education
By Li Li

DARKNESS: A nurse conducts a checkup on Guo Bin at an eye hospital in Taiyuan. The 6-year-old boy from north China's Shanxi Province had his eyes gouged out on August 24, allegedly by a relative (HAN YAN)

The past few months have seen a string of unrelated violent crimes against children making headlines in China, with the most recent victim having his eyes gouged out.

Guo Bin, 6, was playing outside his own home in Linfen City, north China's Shanxi Province, on the afternoon of August 24 when the person who would turn out to be his attacker approached him. After his parents became concerned over Guo's absence at dinner time they began to look for him, finally finding after searching for five hours.

It was not until September 3 that local police announced that Zhang Huiying, the wife of an uncle on Guo's father's side of the family, was the sole suspect. Traces of the boy's blood were recovered from her clothes. Zhang, 41, committed suicide by drowning herself on August 30.

The two families had been involved in a dispute over the care of Guo's bed-ridden grandfather.

Guo's parents, who are from a rural village and earn a living by running a small mahjong club, told Xinhua News Agency that their son was very excited about going to school and starting the first grade in September. He had his new school bag, pencils and notebooks ready and he looked forward to meeting his new classmates.

After the attack, the boy was rushed to an eye hospital in Taiyuan, capital city of Shanxi, on the same night. Yang Caizhen, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said on August 27 that Guo's condition after surgery was stable, but he would be permanently blind.

"Our son asks us why the sky is always dark and why the dawn still hasn't come every time he wakes up," Guo's mother said at the hospital on August 27. The mother had to lie to him that although his eyes were injured, they would only need to be bandaged temporarily.

"It is so difficult to explain to him," she said. "It is the most heartbreaking thing."

The hospital deducted part of the treatment expenses for Guo and donations of money and gifts for him have been flooding to Guo's family after media reports of the incident went national and inspired the charity of people across the country.

Another recent incident causing widespread shock and sympathy took place on July 23.

At approximately 9 p.m. that day, Han Lei, 39, who had previously been imprisoned for theft, got into a dispute with a mother near a bus stop in Beijing's Daxing District. The mother had refused to give up space for Han to park his car, and in response he lifted up the child, who was asleep in her stroller at the time, and then raised the child above his head and slammed her to the ground violently before driving off with his friends. Virtually brain dead, the toddler struggled in the intensive care unit for two days before passing away. Han was later tracked down and arrested. The child was 2 years and 10 months old.

Preventive measures

Legal experts say that root cause of these extreme cases is a negative atmosphere in society. Children are easy targets for adults to vent their anger or frustration upon, as they are vulnerable and unable to protect themselves.

"Eradicating sentiments of hatred toward society requires all members of society to restrain their behavior and reduce their anxieties," said Zhang Yuming, a professor at the Shanxi Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. He said that it is the responsibility of the government and non-governmental organizations to monitor people prone to outbursts and provide them with regular consultations to help them avoid lashing out through extreme behavior.

"Raising the punishment for those causing harm to minors could have the effect of deterring potential criminals and thus better protecting children," said Ma Yunyue, a senior policy research fellow with the Shanxi Provincial Higher People's Court.

Some others point out that parental negligence, a lack of awareness among children and flawed safety networks are also at fault for frequent criminal cases involving children.

The number of children left at home unattended in Chinese cities is large due to the fact many households have two working parents who cannot afford to stay at home to look after their children, and also lack access to services providing child care. This increases the odds of the happening of serious accidents. On the evening of June 30, two girls aged 5 and 7, fell to their deaths from the window of a 13th-floor apartment in Shanghai when their parents, who run a restaurant, left them at home without supervision.

In rural areas, a large number of children are left behind when their parents seek jobs in cities and entrust the grandparents with their care. Usually, the grandparents, who struggle to feed and clothe the children, have neither the knowledge nor awareness to educate children how to avoid dangerous situations.

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