A people's court in southwestern China will try next week five officials and a school teacher on child rape charges.
It is a sordid story of ruthless exploitation of helpless primary and secondary school students in Xishui County.
The accused are vocational school teacher Feng Zhiyang, official Li Shouming in charge of the county migration office, land and resources official Chen Mengran, social security official Huang Yongliang, legal affairs official Chen Cun, legislator Mu Mingzhong and taxi driver Feng Yong.
They were abetted by Yuan Li, a 37-year-old jobless woman and two of her friends from October 2007 to July 2008.
A 14-year-old school dropout surnamed Liu and Liu's boyfriend, 15-year-old Yuan were also part of the gang, it transpires.
The two teenagers, who were drug addicted and needed money desperately, abducted schoolgirls from one primary school and three junior high schools in the county.
The older Yuan was arrested after the scandal was unveiled in August, but prosecutors had not enough evidence to charge her with child abduction or forcing prostitution.
"The two teenagers who actually forced the girls into prostitution are underage and have been put in a local juvenile detention center," said county chief prosecutor Ren Bingqiang.
Yuan Li knew many "influential people" in town because she used to be a prostitute and run an inn in the county seat. "She offered her own apartment as a hospitality venue, helped find clients and took 30 percent of the income, roughly 100 yuan (US$14) per person," an official was quoted as saying. The remaining 70 percent went to the teen duo.
One of the victims, 14-year-old Wang Qing (not her real name), said she was cheated into prostitution by a classmate. "She fled, and I was beaten up by two men when I tried to run after her."
Wang dared not tell anyone her plight out of fear she might be beaten up again. She said she cut her wrist once, but was saved by her classmates, China Daily reported.
She was let go only after she cheated Li Yu (not her real name), a sixth-grader at primary school, into prostitution.
Everything came out in the open when Li, 13, accidentally told her grandmother how scared she was at school. "She said there were always 'girl hunters' outside her school," her grandmother said.
The county public security bureau sent eight policemen into an undercover investigation towards the end of October, and submitted a detailed report by mid November.
President of the county court Yu Deping said the charges could carry jail terms of up to 15 years. "Otherwise, the case would be heard at a higher court."
According to China's penal law, the jail term for rapists is from three to 10 years, but child rapists can be sentenced to life, or even death, if they know the victim is under 14.
Yuan Yunqin, a top county official, told Xinhua the case would be addressed properly and all the government employees allegedly involved would be punished accordingly. "They've gone too far. It's even worse than killing."
China Youth Daily reported Friday at least two of the accused, teacher Feng Zhiyang and migration official Li Shouming, had not been removed from their posts.
"Their wives said they are still on the payroll," the newspaper said.
Feng's wife insisted he was wronged. "He just played poker as far as I know," the businesswoman was quoted as saying.