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The Deaths of Four Siblings Shines a Harsh Light onChina's 60 Million ‘Left-Behind’ Children

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This article by Jack Hu originally appeared on Global Voices on 17 June 2015 [caption id="attachment_3567" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sixty million children are left behind in rural areas while their parents work in big cities.  (Globalvoices) Sixty million children are left behind in rural areas while their parents work in big cities. (Globalvoices)[/caption] China’s gigantic economy isn’t the only thing making headlines around the globe. The country’s increasingly serious social problems are also drawing the world’s attention. Four siblings, a boy and three girls aged between 5 and 13, were found dead on June 9 in Bijie, a city in the southwest province of Guizhou. The children took their own lives by drinking pesticide and a suicide note written by the eldest boy was found, according to local police report. The four siblings’ story was typical of the 60 million children in China whose parents have left them behind to find work elsewhere. Their father, Zhang Fanggi, has been a migrant worker for 10 years and only returns home twice every year. In 2013, their mother had an affair and left the family. Though the father sent money home regularly and the local government claimed to have provided financial support to the family and visited the four children regularly, they were deprived of love and care. “Thanks for your kindness, I know you treat me well, but I should go. I’d vowed to leave the world before I turned 15. Death is my longtime dream. All things are cleared today,” read a suicide note reportedly written by the 13-year-old brother. The boy was born in Bijie, and the three girls were born in southern Hainan province where the couple had worked. The couple eventually took all their daughters (deemed illegal by the country’s one-child policy) home and paid the fine for violating the policy. About half of the 2,480 farmers in the remote village leave for jobs in big cities. The primary school where the siblings went has 158 “left-behind” children. China’s Premier Li Keqiang ordered an inquiry into the case to prevent incidents like these from happening again. Several local officials in Bijie have been punished and sacked. But many have expressed their impatience on social media over the government’s failure to address the problem earlier. Experts have called on the government to provide more social benefits to the country’s migrant workers and to ensure that children can go with their parents as they migrate to other cities for work. However, the children of rural migrants are still barred from attending schools in many cities. No other place in the world has such a huge group of children left behind, separated from their parents for years. A majority are tended to by old grandparents or relatives while about 2 million children live by themselves without any guardian. These children often suffer health and psychological problems. Guo Yuguan, a research fellow with China Society of Economic Reform, explained the root cause of the problem back in 2012, when a similar tragedy happened in the same city — five left-behind boys, aged 13, 12, 11 and nine, were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire inside a rubbish bin to keep warm on a winter night. Yet the government doesn’t take to those promoting reform kindly. Xu Zhiyong, who advocates for equal education rights, was jailed for his work last year, and the government’s crackdown on rights groups continues. These human miseries have not been addressed and remain unsolved. As state media outlets stressed that the death of the siblings had nothing to do with poverty, people online seemed to lose much of their patience with the government. Below is a selection of comments one of the news threads on China’s Twitter-like Weibo. Many criticized government policies including rural development and education: “Too many tragedies have taken place for the left-behind children, we saw what happened to the 5 kids. There are more distressing stories, girls having been sexually assaulted, boys having been coerced to commit crimes. The root cause is that the government has forbidden left-behind children from accessing the cities’ education system.”

Sexual assault

As public anger still simmered about the tragedy in Bijie, another horror involving a left-behind child was exposed. An 11-year-old left-behind girl was sexually assaulted by 18 old men for years in a village in Guangdong province. Chinese media have revealed more and more cases of sexual assault against children, with 1.38 cases per day last year, according to official data. Above 1,000 female children under 14 have suffered sexual assaults just in Guangdong province alone during the years 2009-2012, according to local media outlet Caixin. An annual average of 90 children sexual assault cases have been tried in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou in central China during the past three years, largely involving left-behind and migrant children. The Chinese criminal law “whoring with a girl under the age of 14″ has allowed some of the perpetrators of these sexual assaults to avoid severe punishment. In the case of the recent sexual assault in Guangdong, some villagers blamed the girl for seducing the men and called her a whore. When the story broke on television, Weibo exploded with outraged comments. Liu Yiyi: “The Chinese law whoring with a girl under the age of 14” is the most disgusting provision. Those bastards would get no sympathy even with the death sentence.” Sadly, both the death of the four siblings and the sexual assault are just the tip of the iceberg. Similar tragedies will unfortunately continue to befall China’s 60 million left-behind children as long as they are left with no love or care.]]>

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