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Civil code defines, bans sexual harassment

The move is unprecedented in China's legal history. Cao Yin reports.

By Cao Yin | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-06-01 09:22
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Having spent more than 10 years providing legal services to people dealing with sexual harassment, lawyer Lyu Xiaoquan received some good news at the end of April-he learned that such harassment would be officially banned and a definition would be included in China's first civil code.

"The code will not only clarify the ban on sexual harassment, especially in the case of unequal relationships-such as those between teachers and students or bosses and subordinates-but will also provide a definition of sexual harassment for the first time in China's legal framework," said Lyu, who works for the Beijing Qianqian Law Firm.

The code, adopted by the National People's Congress, the top legislative body, on Thursday, stipulates that sexual harassment by word or deed, or by taking advantage of a position of power, will be subject to civil action if the alleged perpetrator is sued by the victim.

It also lists government agencies, businesses and schools as responsible agents that must take measures to prevent sexual harassment and be able to receive reports and investigate alleged cases, especially in unequal relationships.

"It's a sign of progress that the fundamental civil law is backing sexual harassment victims. It underlines the country's determination to act against such misconduct, which has occurred frequently in recent years and become the subject of a large number of complaints," Lyu said.

On April 20, a month before the plenary session of the NPC, the education bureau in Guanghan, Sichuan province, issued a statement saying it had been working with other authorities to investigate a middle school teacher, surnamed Chen, who some students claimed had sexually harassed girls.

The report, which was published online, claimed that Chen had held the girls' hands, patted their heads, and even groped their breasts after calling them into an empty classroom, according to Red Star News.

Xu Hao, a lawyer from the Beijing Jingshi Law Firm, said: "Campuses and offices are the places where sexual harassment is prevalent, and much of this misconduct happens between people who know one another. Sexual harassment in such places causes physical and mental damage because unequal relationships often make it difficult to speak out, so victims are forced to tolerate it."

He praised the definition included in the civil code.

"It means sexual misconduct will be caught and punished, not only by criminal law, but also civil law," he said. "In other words, legal protection for people being sexually harassed has become stronger and more comprehensive."

Lyu said growing legal awareness among the younger generation means "more victims stand up and say 'no' to sexual harassers. That must be encouraged."

He believes the civil code will provide more support for the drive to protect people's rights by rule of law.

However, both lawyers expressed concern about enforcement and the effectiveness of the code.

"Collecting evidence in civil disputes related to sexual conduct will be much harder than in similar criminal cases," Xu said.

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