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China's "Left Behind" Children - When Five Cousins Die In A Dumpster

Article illustrative image Partner logo A girl in Huizhou

After a nationwide uproar and further investigation, the five street children who died of suffocation after taking refuge from the cold in a large rubbish bin, have been identified. The victims were the sons of three brothers from one family. The oldest child was 13, the youngest was 9. A total of eight local civil affairs and education officials, as well as the primary school director of Qixing district where they came from, have received stern punishments.

Children are parents’ treasured flesh and blood. They are also our source of hope. It’s hard to imagine the grief of the three brothers who lost their five children at the same time. I don't have the heart right now to blame them for not having fulfilled their duty of guardianship.

Most of these children’s parents are migrant workers or farm laborers who toil all day just to feed their family. However, their absence and a lack of communication have greatly affected their children’s healthy development. The fact that out of the five children, four of them had dropped out of school, demonstrates where the problem lies.

Heartbreakingly, this isn’t just the problem of a few families in China. There has been some discussion in recent years of the phenomenon of the “left-behind” children, whose migrant parents cannot afford to take them to the cities, and who are too often not properly educated, cared for or kept safe back in their villages. This tragedy sounds another alarm.

There are 58 million left-behind children in rural China today. How to take care of them cannot be ignored, nor dealt with passively. It is not alarmist to say that the fate of these five children is bound to happen to others.

However, what is exposed in this tragedy isn’t just the conditions of the left-behind children. The reason why the five children walked step-by-step towards their death touches on the wider failure of any protection mechanism coming from family, school, law enforcement agencies or human relief organizations.

These children wandered in the streets for three weeks. But as the facts show, none of the relevant social assistance systems had really performed their duty and stretched out hands with love to them.

Now the hard part

The children’s families reported them missing to the police after they had disappeared for a few days. But the police didn’t “find” them until their young lives were over. This makes one wonder if the local police had ever actively searched, and whether they had bothered to register related information on the Internet. Where the children died is only one minute’s walk away from the local administrative office, yet these children’s whereabouts had not caused any concern. Neither had the local social relief workers played any role, in this cold weather, to give them due shelter. 

In the face of a tragedy that should never have happened, the easy part is the punishment of those deemed responsible. What is more difficult is finding the ways to rapidly improve the mechanisms for protecting the vast number of left-behind children and street children of China.

Focusing on the present, the relevant departments of all regions should take action and make greater efforts to track any wandering children within their jurisdiction and to commence timely help.

The protection of minors is the responsibility of the entire society. The parents who give birth to their children have no right to care for them in an arbitrary manner. And once wandering children are found, relevant departments ought to take all measures to resolutely protect the minors’ rights.    

Only when children have a future, can a nation have hope. The protection of minors in a society depends on that society’s degree of progress in human rights. Only if the whole of society cares for our children can we truly imagine a better future for our nation.

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