Recent case exposes vulnerability of left-behind children to sexual exploitation

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The recently reported case of an 11-year-old girl being forced into prostitution in Hunan Province, which has attracted widespread revulsion, has again cast a spotlight on the plight of China’s “left-behind children”.

The girl was reported missing on September 29th, and was found a week later working as a “hostess” in a hotel Karaoke parlour. She was found to have been sexually assaulted. Police detained seven people, but only charged two. Angry at how long the process was taking, the girl’s father went public on Weibo, with his posts arousing much concern on Chinese social media. A few days ago local police announced that the seven suspects had all been charged with either rape or facilitating prostitution. The girl is reportedly recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The girl is said to live with her grandparents in Hunan’s Qidong county, while her parents worked in a city. This would make her one of the millions of children looked after by elderly grandparents in rural areas or small towns while their parents live as a migrants in larger cities. An editorial published on Sunday by 团结湖参考, a WeChat account belonging to the Beijing Youth Daily, comments on how this case exposes the vulnerability of such children. As the author comments, over the years left-behind children have been increasingly “targeted” by businesses that lure them and force them into prostitution. Some children go from being victims to becoming part of the chain of evildoing themselves.

According to what the article reveals, in Qingdong there is a pimp known as “sister Chen” who has many teenage girls working for her, who in turn are sent out to recruit other girls of their own age. One of the “middlemen” in the case that caused the scandal was an older schoolmate of the victim, who had dropped out of school. In 2016, in a similar case of children being induced into prostitution in Cili County, also in Hunan Province, 11 out of the 17 people suspected of illegal crimes were under-aged students. Almost all of them were left behind children, wandering on the edge of society, in the vacuum between family and school.

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