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'They raped my girl's body and soul'
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08:24, May 19, 2009

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She watches as the man creeps into her room in the dead of night and edges towards her bed, his face twisted with an evil grin. Just as he lifts her duvet, Kang Qian screams, jolting her from her sleep.

Soaked in sweat, she begins to cry. The 14-year-old has had the recurring nightmare ever since she was forced into a life of prostitution two years ago.

Kang Qian, not her real name, was one of at least 10 victims of a child sex scandal involving government officials exposed last year in Xishui county, in southwestern Guizhou province.

Police discovered the girls, all primary and secondary school students, had been coerced by threats of violence into joining an underage prostitution ring run by Yuan Li, a 37-year-old jobless woman, and two teenage accomplices, between October 2007 and July 2008.

Yuan offered men sex with her "backpack girls" for money, while also using some as "hunters" to recruit their friends or classmates. Police started an investigation on Aug 15 last year after the mother of one victim reported her daughter was pregnant after being raped.

Li Shoumin, of the county migration office; Chen Mengran, a land and resources official; social security official Huang Yongliang, legal affairs official Chen Cun, real estate developer Mu Mingzhong, teacher Feng Zhiyang and taxi driver Feng Yong stood trial at Xishui County People's Court on April 8 accused of having sex with underage prostitutes.

However, no verdict was reached and, on April 22, the local public prosecutor suspended the case and ordered a fresh probe, with many expecting the charge to be upgraded to child rape, which carries a heavier punishment, in time for the next trial, the date of which is still to be announced.

"How can they call me a prostitute when I was forced into it," said an angry Kang. "I almost became a girl hunter myself when I was told I had to bring other girls if I wanted to avoid doing it (sleeping with the men) myself.

"I was afraid the gang would kill me if I said a word. That's why I didn't tell anyone, including my parents."

"No girls did it voluntarily, trust me. The gang got all the money, we just didn't want to be killed."

She added: "I really don't want to talk about my past any more. All I want is to get out of Xishui and go to another town where nobody knows me, to start afresh."

Wang Qing, also not her real name, was 13 years old when a friend introduced her to the boss of the prostitution ring. She described to Chongqing Evening News how she had been forced to lose her virginity to one of the seven accused, Feng Zhiyang.

"I was so afraid. I was forced into a hotel where the man locked the door and stripped me. I kept crying," she told the newspaper. "Afterwards, the gang threatened me that if I talked about it to anyone else I would be beaten up.

"I later found out the man was a teacher in the local vocational high school. It was perverted some of the things he made me do!"

Yuan Yunqin, the county's Party secretary of political science and law, said the crime was "more unforgivable than a murder", adding that he suspected the prostitution ring must have had good connections to operate for so long.

But he assured any protection the gang might have enjoyed in the past was gone now that a new head of the public security bureau had been appointed from the nearby city of Zunyi, which administers Xishui county, to seek any malpractice.

"The gang members might have known or bribed government officials. Maybe that's why the underage prostitution was not exposed sooner," he said. "Those people found to have neglected their duties will be punished.

"There might be more people involved in this case but it is really difficult to convict someone on sex-related charges, as it is hard to collect evidence recognized by a court."

However, although he agreed local governments should do more to protect teenage girls from the dangers of prostitution, he stressed policies would never replace the need for good parenting. "Without proper guidance from parents, the behavior of children can get out of control and they don't know who to turn to when they are in trouble," he added.

Xishui has a population of around 800,000, including more than 100,000 migrant workers, who are often forced to leave their children with a grandparent or other relatives as they move to another county or province for a job. The situation, he said, is having a massive effect on families and is creating a generation of children who receive little, if any, adult supervision.

The hotel at the center of an alleged child prostitution ring involving at least 10 victims in Xishui county, Guizhou province. The gang leader, Yuan Li, who is accused of offering men sex with "backpack girls" in return for cash, was said to have used a room on the third floor. China Youth Daily

The father of Kang Qian, a migrant worker in his 40s, said he felt partially responsible for his daughter's situation.

"I have to work away from home most of the time to support my family, but I've done everything I could," he said. "Believe it or not, I didn't know about what my daughter was involved in until the police told me. I cannot believe it had been going on so long.

"I used to be afraid she was taking drugs, as I knew some of her friends did, but this is a million times worse!"

He said his daughter had once disappeared for two months, causing panic in the family until her uncle bumped into her in Xishui. "I rushed to take her home. I cut her hair short and chained her to the radiator so she wouldn't run away again. I really have tried everything," said the distraught father.

His wife had also witnessed Kang Qian being threatened with a knife at the school gates when she went to collect her, he said. "We asked her if she was in some sort of trouble, she still said nothing. She was just too afraid.

"The gang definitely had connections, otherwise those government officials wouldn't have dared to do such horrible things without any concerns for being caught. It is only fair if they are all given the death penalty, they are beasts!"

Raising his voice, he added: "How can they not be charged with child rape? They didn't just rape my daughter's body, but also her soul."

At Yuhuai High School, where Kang Qian was a student, staff said they were unaware of the girl hunters stalking their prey at its school gates. "Some teachers did hear students talking about them, but we thought they were just joking," said a teacher surnamed Liu.

However, a pupil surnamed Wang, 14, who said the school had banned students from discussing the sensitive issue, added: "They (the hunters) were regulars at our school gates. I always tried to avoid eye contact with them so they wouldn't pick me. I feel really lucky that I wasn't one of the girls."

The scandal has prompted a provincial crackdown on forced prostitution of underage girls, which was launched on May 1.

Lin Lianhua, deputy secretary of the Party's political science and law committee in Guizhou, said he hoped the campaign would "bring an end to the kidnappings of young girls for good", adding the campaign would also target those who force minors to beg or commit other crimes.

However, a shop owner in Xishui, who said he was in his 50s, warned the deep-rooted problem of child prostitution in the province would not be an easy one to solve.

"Backpack girls were in fashion way before now. They've only found one gang, and God knows how many gangs like this there are in Xishui," he said.

Source: China Daily

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