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Online child grooming under close watch by governmental and social forces

By Miao Wanyi (People's Daily Online)    16:44, September 11, 2018

“Hello? Is this the police station? I want to report a case of sexual assault.”

This is the last thing any parent would want to see their children do but in the age of the internet. What is equally threatening is the online grooming that targets children, which has been brought under close monitoring by both authorities and social efforts in China.

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In the internet era, children are consistently exposed to a virtual world that is full of unfiltered pornographic information. Chances are high that they would risk their privacy to online groomers who particularly target children. Moreover, accesses to the internet via various digital devices heighten the risk of exposing children to sexual assault circumstances, experts warned at a seminar on children protection in Beijing in May.

Online grooming is a grey area that is likely to be the hotbed for e vicious online predators that parents cannot easily identify. Their “invisibility” makes them even more dangerous.

“The unscrupulous online groomers covet distraction, which means neither parents nor the society should ease online supervision, and we must not neglect the multiple accessible channels,” said Sun Liying, director of the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology at The Children’s Hospital, Zhejiang University.

Online groomers in any form are a serious concern as online grooming is an evolving problem that lurks in the shadows of the virtual world and seemingly comes out of nowhere, according to experts at a seminar hosted by Girls’ Protecting Foundation, a Beijing-based NGO aiming to protect Chinese children from sexual assault.

Since the enactment of China’s first Cybersecurity Law in 2017, awareness of protecting children, especially girls, from sexual assault has reached a high level thanks to social and organizational efforts to keep children safe.

“Law is the bottom line to protect children from all kinds of criminal attacks. This law especially seeks to bring the subject of online grooming out of the shadows and protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse,” said Shi Weizhong, a deputy director of the juvenile affairs of the nation’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

Mere self-regulation or government supervision is not enough, as demonstrated by the fact that no matter how we try to catch online groomers, their disappearance is only temporary and they will come back whenever possible, Shi said.

Sexual assaults are sometimes intentionally hidden by a child’s guardians, to whom in China, saving face and reputation can trump a desire for justice, especially for older, more conservative care-givers in rural areas where migrant workers’ left-over children often get sexually assaulted by neighbors and acquaintances, according to Sun Xuemei, founder of Girls’ Protecting Foundation.

“Unfortunately, calling the police is the last thing that some Chinese parents want to do when they find out that their children were sexually assaulted, especially in Chinese rural areas,” said Sun.

China saw some 387 cases of children sexual assault in 2017, a slight decline compared to 2016 numbers. Still, there were more than 600 children reported sexually assaulted, but which also better took into account the number of boys, according to the statistics from Girls’ Protecting.

“Online grooming and sexual assault will both leave inerasable shadows on a child’s life. Children are vulnerable, but we’re not. All of society should shield children’s mental and physical health, as we choose to be their natural guardians in the first place,” Sun noted.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Jiang Jie, Bianji)

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