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In Nod to #MeToo, China Codifies Sexual Harassment by Law

Image used for representation. (Reuters)

Image used for representation. (Reuters)

Women who started China's #MeToo movement won a small victory when the nation's parliament enacted legislation that defines actions that can constitute sexual harassment.

Beijing: Two years ago, Zhou Xiaoxuan publicly accused one of China's most recognizable people of groping and forcibly kissing her, setting off a firestorm in a country that did not specify sexual harassment as a legal offence.

Last week Zhou and dozens of other women who started China's #MeToo movement won a small victory when the nation's parliament enacted legislation that for the first time defines actions that can constitute sexual harassment.

The reference in the new civil code, approved on Thursday by a session of the National People's Congress, is largely a symbolic step. While it holds schools, businesses and other organisations responsible for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment, it does not lay out guidelines for enforcement.

"The civil code is a big step, but much more will need to be fleshed out," said Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School. "After all, US sexual-harassment law is still developing after decades and grappling with its failures, as laid bare by #MeToo."

Still, some lawyers and activists say the civil code offers for the first time a nationally recognised enumeration of sexual harassment as a legal offence.

Article 1,010 of the new code says a person may be held liable "for speech, words, images or bodily actions that have been used to carry out sexual harassment against a person's wishes."

The development could pave the way for further changes to allow sexual-harassment victims to seek redressal, six lawyers and activists interviewed by Reuters said.

The parliament's Legislative Affairs Commission and China's State Council did not respond to faxed requests for comment about the decision to define sexual harassment in the civil code.