BEIJING, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- China's top legislature on Saturday voted to repeal the crime of sex with underage prostitutes and reclassify it as rape, which would face a tougher punishment.
The National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee approved the amendments to the Criminal Law at the closing meeting of its six-day bimonthly legislative session.
This was welcomed by the All-China Women's Federation, which said in a statement that it marked an important progress for the protection of women and children.
Under the previous law, people who have sex with prostitutes less than 14 years old face a maximum of 15 years in prison, while those convicted of raping a child may face death sentence.
Legal professionals have been questioning whether to scrap the crime of sex with underage prostitutes since it was written into the Criminal Law in 1997.
Legislature has carried out multiple investigations on the issue and consulted academics and specialists.
"There is no need to define such a crime. Having sex with minors should be considered rape, no matter who she is and what she does," said Jia Chunmei, a prosecutor from north China's Hebei Province and an NPC deputy, during a legislative session last August.
The conflicting provisions have helped offenders escape harsher punishment, as they have argued that the underage girl has consented and was paid, Jia said.
Gu Yongzhong, an expert with All China Lawyers' Association, said having sex with underage prostitutes was extremely vile that should be firmly cracked down upon.
Although establishing the crime of sex with underage prostitutes is to increase the protection of minors, in practice, it caused more controversy as lighter penalties were imposed on the crime which brought complaints from families of victims, Gu said.
Especially when the criminals who had sex with underage prostitutes were government officials, the public reacted strongly to the lenient sentence instead of tougher punishment when sentenced as rape, Lao Dongyan, associate professor of the Tsinghua University Law School.
Moreover, the crime imposed stigma on young girls who might engage in forced prostitution, but as victims of the crime, "prostitutes" forever became the label of the girls.
In a high-profile case in 2009, eight people, including four government officials and a teacher, were jailed for terms ranging from seven years to life for child rape in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
Yuan Ronghui, an unemployed woman who abetted and forced 10 schoolgirls into prostitution in Xishui County from October 2007 to June 2008, received a life term handed down by local court.
Yuan offered her own apartment as a venue for the rapes, after her two teenage accomplices abducted schoolgirls, three under the age of 14, from a primary school and three junior high schools, the court heard.
Seven other people were jailed for terms of seven to 14 years after being convicted of child-rape.