A cartoon in response to the incident. weibo

A recent spate of sex crimes by Chinese teachers and educators has higher courts in the country seeking harsher punishments for officials or teachers caught abusing minors. Several of China’s top courts and judicial bodies have detailed new guidelines regarding sex crimes against minors.

A joint announcement by the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice gave guidelines on seven specific circumstances in which sexual abuse would warrant a particularly “severe punishment.”

The guidelines specify different vulnerable minors such as the so-called “stay-behind” children of migrant workers, and all minors under 12. The guidelines do not go into detail as to what "severe punishments" would entail, but do cite examples of instances that would warrant them. For example, cases that include violence or coercion leading to injury, pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases would all elicit a harsh punishment.

According to the South China Morning Post, the new rules also focus on the privacy of the victims. The courts are announcing they will be shoring up the privacy of victims of the crimes during the investigation stages as well as during prosecution. The guidelines also call for the minimization of using suspended sentences. Suspended sentences are often used for high-profile criminals, who end up serving rather cushy sentences, sometimes even from the comfort of their own homes.

The development in legislation follows a recent series of cases of abuse of young girls by teachers and criticism from the public of China’s current sometimes-dubious rape and sexual abuse laws, which have led to what some feel are lenient sentences.

Most recently, a province official in southwestern Yunnan named Guo Yuchi was found guilty of raping a 4-year-old girl but was only sentenced to serve a five-year sentence. Earlier this summer, Chen Zaipeng, a school principal in southern Hainan province, and Feng Xiaosong, a local official, were convicted of raping six young girls and were sentenced to 11.5 years and 13.5 years in prison, respectively.

Typically, rape cases involving minors carry the death penalty but because of a gray area in legislation regarding soliciting underage prostitutes, many are able to get off with lighter sentences.

One expert, Wang Yu, a Beijing-based lawyer, sees the new guidelines as a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. “A ‘guideline’ is not a law, or a judicial interpretation,” Wang said to the South China Morning Post, “It’s unclear from reading this just how severely offenders will be punished, and it will be at the discretion of judges to decide when the guidelines conflict with existing laws.”

“This is more of a gesture to ease public outrage than a serious solution to the problem,” she added.