After three small girls were molested by a man in a kindergarten in Yangpu district earlier this month, some Shanghai psychologists are calling for sex education to begin early in schools.
"Child sex abuse is highly underreported in China. Many victims are too young to understand what has happened to them and this is why early sex education is important," Ji Minglü, a Shanghai psychologist specializing in children and adolescents, told the Global Times.
"There has been a common misconception in China that sex education is only necessary for teenagers. This is not true. Parents should let their children know in early childhood that their bodies are their own, and kindergartens should implement sex education programs in class," he said.
The three girls, aged 5 and 6, were molested by a 42-year-old man in Changxiang Art Kindergarten on Shuangyang Road on June 7. Police later arrested the man and identified him as the husband of the kindergarten's nutritionist. He was not employed by the kindergarten.
Invited to play
The girls, whose parents run small businesses nearby, had left their homes on their own to buy ice creams on the day. When they were passing the kindergarten on their way home, the man opened the gate and invited them to play on the slide in the kindergarten.
The girls do not attend that kindergarten but, attracted by the invitation, they went inside. Then he took the girls into a room and told them that they could only play if they let him touch them. One of the girls later told her mum "It hurt."
After 20 minutes the parents began looking for their daughters and at the kindergarten they saw the man bringing the girls outside. He told the parents he was a security guard and welcomed having children come in to play in the kindergarten at weekends.
The parents didn't know their children had been assaulted until later when one of the girls told her mother what had happened and the parents called the police.
This has not been the only recent child sex abuse case in Shanghai involving schools.
Last June, Shanghai police arrested US teacher David McMahon after he was accused of molesting six of his students, aged 6 to 10, at the Lycee Francais de Shanghai where the 32-year-old worked. The case is still being investigated.
Zhou Meizhen, who's in charge of a psychological hot line for women and children in the city, said parents needed to teach children about privacy as soon as they learned to speak. "Toddlers need to understand they should neither show their private body parts to others, nor let them be touched," Zhou told the Global Times.
When children were 4 or older and curious about where they had come from, parents should explain to them how babies were born, in a way that they could understand, Zhou said.
This has not been the norm in China where, traditionally, parents didn't discuss sex with their children, and where "we discovered you in a trash can" was the usual answer Chinese children were given when they asked parents where they came from.
Child molestation is a crime in China. Under the law, anyone who is found guilty of molesting a child under 14 can be sentenced to up to five years in jail.
But it is not easy to obtain convictions. Many parents, even if they know their children have been molested, don't want to bring cases to court, either because they don't want their children to go through the trauma again, or they don't want the incident to be public knowledge.
What makes child molestation more complicated is the fact that most child victims are abused by people they know and trust.
A report by a child advocacy website shows that among the 340 child sex abuse cases reported by Chinese media from 2006 to 2008, 68 percent of the attackers were friends of the victims' families or family members. Teachers and stepparents were often involved and some cases saw children being molested over long periods of up to five years.
"I've handled a case when a girl was being molested by her stepfather, but her natural mother wouldn't report this to the police," Zhou said.
Collecting physical evidence for this crime is difficult and usually there are no witnesses to corroborate victim's statement.
If a child has been molested, parents should first take the child for a physical examination, experts advise.
Parents should reassure their children that they had done nothing wrong. "Many children feel guilty and uncertain after they are molested. Parents should stand by them," Ji said.
And parents should tactfully explain what has happened to their children. Zhou said some parents dramatized the situation and acted as if the child's life had been ruined because of the attack. If children hear this, they will probably believe that their lives are worthless and depression will set in. Both experts said counseling was vital for children who exhibited serious psychological problems after being molested and for their parents as well.