Three years on from a similar incident, another tragedy involving left-behind children—those who remain in rural areas while their parents work in cities—has hit Bijie, southwest China's Guizhou Province.
On December 21, 2012, five boys, all aged around 10 years old, were found dead in a garbage bin. They had died of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire to keep warm. The news shook the entire country. On June 9, 2015, the death of four children shrouded the location in tragedy once again. In a small village in Bijie, four left-behind children, aged 5-13, were found dead after imbibing pesticide.
Accompanying China's rapid economic growth, more and more farmers are leaving their hometowns and rushing to cities to earn more money, giving birth to the phenomenon of left-behind children in rural areas. At a very formative point in their lives, such children are left to fend for themselves, starved of parental love and attention or moral guidance. Some engage in criminal behavior from a young age.
A white paper on the mental health of China's left-behind children was released in Beijing on June 18. Based on a vast questionnaire survey conducted among 2,000 families in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Hebei, Gansu and Shandong as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the document points out that nearly 10 million, approximately 15.1 percent of the country's total left-behind population, do not get to see their parents from one end of the year to the other, even during the Spring Festival, a holiday period synonymous with family reunions in China.
Most left-behind children stay with their grandparents, who generally have inadequate education. Some live alone, and face bigger risks due to insufficient care. The four left-behind children taking pesticide in Bijie were of the latter situation. Their father has been out of touch for years after he left home to make a living. Their mother left three years ago. The four kids had been living by themselves because no grandparent was able to take care of them.
Though the government has introduced many policies and measures to protect left-behind children, try as it may, the state cannot replace the love and care of one's parents. The ideal situation would be that parents and their children are reunited. Fastening the pace of local economic development and creating job opportunities in affected areas can help make this a reality. The recent tragedy serves as a grim reminder that we cannot forfeit the well-being of our nation's children for the sake of economic development.