Concerns have been raised over the protection of vulnerable minors in China after netizens exposed a number of websites for hosting video and photographs of suspected child sexual abuse.
A Beijing-based net user calling himself "Doctor Li" released an article on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website on Thursday, writing about his accidental discovery of a forum which displayed numerous video clips and pictures of children, apparently aged under 14, being sexually assaulted.
"Doctor Li" said in the article that one of the websites has been running for more than two years and has 30,000 registered members, and other similar sites are still accessible. He called on authorities in China to crack down on these websites and has reported the sites to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the U.S.
According to a document sent to the Global Times by "Doctor Li" on Sunday, screenshots of these websites showed that pictures and video clips of underage girls wearing school uniforms but in sexually revealing poses were on the websites.
"Doctor Li" said that he had revealed and reported more than 10 similar websites in recent days to authorities, including the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre (CIIRC). Other netizens had also reported some sites.
Overseas domain problem
The article has caused much public concern from netizens as well as popular accounts on zhihu.com.
An anonymous source working with the official account of the Communist Youth League of China on zhihu.com, said Sunday they have confirmed the existence of the first website which "Doctor Li" exposed and have reported it to the Cyberspace Administration of China and Beijing police officers.
It is not known what action the police are going to take, but netizens are banding together in an online group to try and contact the people who posted the content, and will contact local welfare organizers, lawyers and psychologists.
The CIIRC, confirmed with the Global Times on Sunday that they had received reports about websites that appeared to be hosting video and pictures of child pornography.
"If we spot websites with illegal content, we report them to public security departments. But many websites own various domain names and some put their servers overseas, which make them difficult to trace and crack down on," a CIIRC employee said, on condition of anonymity.
The CIIRC said they only inspect websites with .cn domain names, which are real-name registered. However, domain names ending with .org, controlled by US operator Verisign, can be easily registered at little cost.
"Doctor Li" said that some websites he reported have been shut down but those websites which are registered with .org are still accessible. "These websites put their servers in the US and South Korea," he said.
Left-behind children at risk
The incident has highlighted the need for better protection of children from sexual assault.
According to data from the China Foundation of Culture and Arts for Children (FCAC), 928 cases of child sexual abuse were exposed by the press from 2013 to 2015, discovering 1,790 child victims. Nearly 70 percent of victims were minors aged between 7 and 14, and over 70 percent of crimes are committed by acquaintances - teachers, neighbors and relatives, the FCAC said.
Wang Ling, an expert on child protection from the Chinese Society of Education, said that most child victims of sexual assault are left-behind children in China's rural villages and towns.
With the absence of safeguarding from parents who work in cities, left-behind children are more likely to suffer from abuse from adults, Wang said.
More than 60 million children are considered left-behind in China, the Xinhua News Agency reported in 2016.
"Few cases of child sexual assault are exposed in China, since many parties, including parents and schools, consider the abuse as shameful and there may be social bias against the young victims," Wang noted.
One important step to help and protect children is to gradually alter the predominant wrong thinking on sexual abuse and promote sex education in schools," Wang said.