CHINA / Regional

Rural girls pay high price to prove rape
Updated: 2006-06-13 12:07

Sixteen-year-old Xiao Ying looks at the baby sleeping in her arms -- this isn't just her child; it's the evidence that helped to jail the man who raped her.

Xiao Ying (a pseudonym), from Guiding county in southwest China's Guizhou Province, is one of many teenage Chinese girls who have given birth to unwanted children in order to convict rapists.

Too poor to continue schooling, Xiao Ying dropped out when she was 11. She landed a job in a hardware store in 2004, but her nightmare began on January 16 last year, when the 46-year-old shop owner, surnamed Qiu, sneaked into her bedroom and raped her.

The rape was repeated the next evening. Xiao Ying quit her job, but Qiu threatened her to keep silent about the rape.

However, the secret was betrayed when her stomach began to swell. Her furious father called the police. That evening, Qiu approached her uncle and signed an agreement, "I was responsible for having sex with Xiao Ying. I will give her 8,000 yuan (US$1,000) for medical treatment and upkeep."

Xiao Ying's father handed the agreement with Qiu's signature to the police as evidence. A friend who had been with her when the second rape took place was found as witness, but the Guiding police officers told them that it was insufficient to prosecute Qiu.

The girl and her family made the decision that she would have the baby in order to secure a conviction. Her father sold everything they had and sent the girl to hospital. On October 29, the baby was born.

A DNA test soon proved Qiu was the father and he was arrested several weeks later. He is now serving a seven-year jail term.

Xiao Ying's experience has been repeated all over rural China.

In the summer of 1999, a 15-year-old girl in east China's Anhui Province gave birth to support her allegation of rape.

In September 2000, another 15-year-old girl in south China's Guangdong Province gave birth to put her 62-year-old great uncle in jail.

In April 2003, a girl in northeast China's Liaoning Province was raped. Her parents encouraged her to give birth in order to identify the culprit.

This list goes on, and the "evidence" takes a heavy toll.

"It forces the victim to face the results of the rape," says Chen Jian with the Qiaocheng Law Firm, who offered to help Xiao Ying gratis. "The baby is always reminding her of the shadow of the past."

As the victims are minors and often need guardians themselves, Chen wonders who takes responsibility for raising the child.

Giving birth as evidence is also unfair to the child, says a professor of sociology with Guizhou University, who only gave his surname as Li.

The child usually arrives in the world under a cloud of disgrace and discrimination, says Li. The mother is likely to vent to her resentment on the child, which may engender future social problems.

However, medical experts say giving birth is unnecessary for a DNA test.

"Amniocentesis or preservation of certain tissues of the fetus after abortion could provide the evidence," says Zhou Qiang, director of the DNA Judicial Evidence Center in Guizhou.

Unfortunately, most victims in rural areas have no access to the expertise or technology, and they tend to believe that having the baby is the easiest way to bring the rapist to court, says lawyer Jiang Yong, of Dingzun Law Firm in Guizhou.

"Therefore, judicial units are duty-bound to help victim avoid a second harm," says Jiang.

Xiao Ying's aunt says they provided police with detailed information of the crime, a witness and the agreement Qiu signed, but the police released the suspect without further investigation. Their only recourse for a conviction was to let her have the baby.

"If during Xiao Ying's pregnancy, the police had immediately offered to help with the DNA test, the birth would have been unnecessary," she says.

Meanwhile, both lawyers believe it necessary to spread legal knowledge in rural areas. "Many villagers consider giving birth the only way to secure a conviction, but it isn't," says Jiang.

Jiang notes that the baby proves only that sexual intercourse took place, so the victim must still prove the intercourse was against her will.

In Xiao Ying's case, without the witness and the agreement, it would have been impossible to convict Qiu. When reminding victims to collect evidence, Jiang warns they should be cautious about having the baby.

Xiao Ying's mother left the family years ago. Her father and the four children live on handouts. "We are planning to sue Qiu for the upkeep of the baby," says the father. But legal cost is high, about 3,000 yuan (US$375). "Where can we find that money?"