Editor’s note: The Ministry of Education published a draft regulation on its website on Tuesday soliciting public opinions, which includes banning faculty members from having a romantic or sexual relationship with students. Is the proposed regulation to protect school students against sexual exploitation too rigid? And will it really protect students against sexual abuse? Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily’s Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:
No gray area for people to use to escape punishment
The regulation is virtually a part of the newly revised Law on the Protection of Minors, which will take effect on International Children’s Day on June 1.
According to Article 2 of the law, “Minors as used in this Law refer to citizens under the age of eighteen.” The proposed regulation is an extension of an earlier expression, prohibiting “inappropriate relationships” between teachers and students in primary and high schools, and explicitly prohibits teachers from having a sexual or romantic relationship with students, so as to fully protect students against sexual harassment or assault from teachers. By doing so, the proposed regulation leaves no gray area for interpretation, which many teachers used in the past to escape legal punishment.
For years now, elementary to high school teachers in developed countries have been banned from having an intimate relationship with students. Many countries have even banned college teachers from having such a relationship. Due to the unequal power dynamic, a romantic or sexual relationship between a teacher and a student is fraught with dangers, because teachers can take undue advantage of their power to entice or coerce students to seek sexual favor. Also, teachers can undermine justice and equity by manipulating the academic evaluation or grading of students.
The ban, therefore, will also safeguard students’ academic interests.
Many have been seeking a ban on romantic relationships between teachers and students for years, but those opposed to the ban claimed that people have the right to have a relationship with anyone they like so long as both parties are mature and agree to the relationship.
Yet the fact that teachers can potentially abuse their power to exploit students indicates the unequal status of the two sides. Thus, it’s necessary to draw a clear line between faculty and students when it comes to a romantic or physical relationship. This is also required by a teachers’ professional ethics. As such, the ban should be extended to universities in the future.
Xiong Bingqi, head of the 21st Century Education Research Institute
Move to protect students in schools welcome
With cases of sexual harassment and assault on underage students by teachers in schools keep hitting headlines, countermeasures against such acts have been high on the government agenda for years.
In 2013, four ministries including the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Education jointly released a policy to protect minors from sexual abuse. In particular, it targeted people who take or could take advantage of their position to force students aged 14 or above to have sex with them, saying such an act should be regarded as rape.
That was an improvement on the law enforcement, because before that the Criminal Law stipulated that only people having a sexual relationship with minors aged below 14, voluntarily or otherwise, could be charged with rape. Those aged 14 or above could face insufficient legal protection before 2013, so if the accused insisted a minor had sex with him or her voluntarily, he or she was not charged with the crime of rape. In cases of teachers having sex with their students, it became very difficult to determine the crime given the unequal power dynamic between the two sides.
Banning teachers from having sexual or romantic relationships with students will solve this problem and better protect juveniles against sexual abuse in school. Sexual abuse or harassment of a minor, apart from violating the criminal law, also causes irreparable physical and psychological damage to minors. The ban will rule out this possibility.
Rather than being too rigid, the proposed ban is necessary.
Tong Lihua, director of the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center
Wang Jiaqi contributed to the story.
The views don’t necessarily represent those of China Daily.