Stricter laws on rape in China but prejudices against women exist

Last week, a friend was taking a taxi back home quite late in the night. The taxi driver struck up a conversation after learning that he was an Indian. The conversation: how unsafe New Delhi and India were for women.

Another friend took the bullet train to spend New Year’s eve in sparkling Shanghai. Every time, he went out with his Chinese or expat friends, the conversation veered towards the ghastly incident of the gang rape in New Delhi.

The case was monitored closely by the state media in China, both in English and Chinese. The state-run Xinhua news agency kept track of the case from New Delhi, and later from Singapore, with frequent updates.

It was also discussed on Chinese micro blogs where many criticised India’s law and order situation. Some wrote that at least in India protesters could come on to the streets to show their anger against the authorities.

On Wednesday, Xinhua, sourcing a story from China’s national broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), did another story on the incident.

“The brutality of the case has made Indians confront the disturbing reality that sexual violence is a deeply entrenched problem in Indian society. Activists hope that the savage assault on 23-year-old young woman could shake off the taboo associated with sexual violence and make the authorities take such cases more seriously,” the report said.

Two days ago, the nationalistic Global Times newspaper carried a scathing opinion piece about sexual violence in India.

“The abuse of women in India is shocking. It has been reported that 572 rapes were recorded in New Delhi in 2011, and rape cases increased seven times in the past 40 years. However, those are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent report by the New York Times cited a 2010 survey on Indian women’s safety in public places, pointing out that more than one third of the women questioned in New Delhi had suffered sexual harassment in the previous year, but less than 1 percent had reported it to police,” the Global Times opinion piece said.

It carried on: “Six decades ago, China and India maintained a similar development level, but there has been a widening gap after China explored reform and opening-up. Analysts hold that India is about a decade behind China in economic development and three decades behind in social development.”

The piece went on to indicate that it’s India’s political system – parliamentary democracy – that has failed.

In China, the law on rape is stricter. Article 236 of the Criminal Law of the country says: “Whoever rapes a woman by violence, coercion or any other means shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than 10 years. Whoever has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 14 shall be deemed to have committed rape and shall be given a heavier punishment. Whoever rapes a woman or has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 14 shall, in any of the following circumstances, be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years, life imprisonment or death:
(1) the circumstances being flagrant;
(2) raping a number of women or girls under the age of 14;
(3) raping a woman before the public in a public place;
(4) raping a woman with one or more persons in succession; or
(5) causing serious injury or death to the victim or any other serious consequences.”

Beijing for one is a safer city for women than Delhi. But what is problematic is that statistics on rape or other forms of sexual violence – like in most countries – are hard to come by. According to a report by the University of South Carolina, the US Department of State reported 31,833 rapes in China in 2007, though the Chinese government has not released official statistics for that year. In 2005, the last year for which official Chinese statistics are available, the official number was merely 15,000.

When some cases do grab attention, it’s often and sadly the woman, the victim – despite the high-pedestal tone taken by the state media over the New Delhi incident – who continues to be hounded.

“Another ironic, but sadly common phenomenon is that when a victim has reported a sexual assault to police, seeking justice, hoping for the violator to be punished by the law, if the violator is powerful or backed by someone important, the victim will be pressured to solve the problem quietly, mostly to save face for the violator and related parties.”

Sounds familiar? This is not about India.

The quote is from a piece by eminent social activist Zeng Jinyan – wrote for the Huffington Post in 2011 under the title: “Sex assault victims suffer twice in China.”

“It is difficult and frustrating for the victim to insist on justice, as the court usually won’t stand for it. Bringing public opinion to bear can force the authorities to change a little, but not enough. Most victims never receive full justice. Some even lose their lives as the price of resistance. They are still suffering twice,” she wrote.

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