Questions raised over why boys found dead in dumpster were not in school
Eight people, including government officials and school principals, have been disciplined over the deaths of five street children last week in Southwest China's Guizhou province, local authorities said on Tuesday.
Five boys, ranging in age from 9 to 13, were found dead in a dumpster in the Qixingguan district of Bijie, a mountainous city in Guizhou, by a trash collector on Friday morning.
On Thursday night, when they were believed to have died, it was raining in Bijie, with the temperature falling to as low as 6 C.
Based on autopsies, police confirmed that the children died from carbon monoxide poisoning after they burned charcoal for warmth in the dumpster, which is about 1.5 meters high, 1.3 meters wide and has an airtight lid.
Tang Xingquan, deputy head of Qixingguan district who was in charge of civil affairs, and Gao Shoujun, another deputy district head responsible for education, have been suspended from their posts and requested to submit an explanation for the incident to higher authorities, according to city government publicity officials.
Other officials, including Party chiefs of the district's education and civil affairs bureaus, have been relieved of their duties. Two local school principals were also sacked for failing to get the children back into school.
The five children were brothers and cousins, and their fathers were three brothers. Two of the fathers were working as trash collectors in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, at the time the tragedy happened.
Four of the boys had dropped out of school a long time ago, family members said.
Tao Jinyou, father of Tao Zhonglin, one of the deceased children, said his son had not gone to school since 2010. "Though the teacher tried to persuade him to return to school, he refused and went home even we forced him to go back to school," he said.
They usually ran out to play, leaving no message to their family. Before their deaths, they had been out for 11 days, leaving their family and teachers unaware of their whereabouts, until the parents were called to identify their bodies.
The boys deserted school because "they were getting poor grades and disliked learning", said Tao Yuanwu, a father of two of the boys.
A local resident surnamed Li who first revealed this case online said many residents living nearby knew the five children had wandered on streets for days.
"They took a shabby shed in a construction site near the dumpster and ate some discarded vegetables in the market and played football that they had picked up," he told China Central Television on Monday.
The tragedy sparked an outburst of grief from the public, who blamed the children's guardians and local authorities for failing to take care of the youngsters.
"Where were their parents when they needed care? Where were their teachers? Where were the social welfare institutions? Where were local officials?" asked Shi Shusi, a well-known news commentator, on his micro blog.
"A society unable to treat its children well is hopeless."
"The 'bring children home' project launched by eight central government departments last year was aimed at cleaning all Chinese cities' streets of homeless children by the end of this year. Why did city authorities in Bijie fail to notice these five kids who wandered the streets for three weeks?" the People's Daily said in a commentary on Tuesday.
Bijie, a land-locked, resource-rich city with 7 million people, is perched on craggy mountains. Many local peasants left home in search of well-paying jobs in cities, leaving their children under the custody of grandparents or distant relatives.
The city government of Bijie said late on Tuesday it will thoroughly check the situation of left-behind children and set up a foundation dedicated to helping those children.
Chen Changxu, Bijie's mayor, said the government will learn from the tragedy and spare no efforts to prevent such incidents in the future.
Among the three fathers, Tao Jinyou was the only one who stayed in their rural hometown, toiling on farmlands for a living. His son, Tao Zhonglin, quit school two years ago and sometimes helped him herd cattle. "At first, I sent him back to school by force. But every time he would run away again, so I knew it was hopeless," Tao Jinyou said.
Distracted by poverty and laborious farm work, he and his wife paid little attention to their son, let alone his brothers' sons.
The other four boys were supposed to be under the care of an aging, blind grandmother who had difficulties even caring for herself, so most of the time, the kids just survived by themselves, officials said.
"We need to put the well-being of left-behind children at the top of our agenda," Bijie Vice-Mayor Hu Jihong said.
Li Fangping, a lawyer in Beijing, and Feng Ding, Li's counterpart in Jiangsu province, sent two applications to Bijie's education and public security bureaus on Tuesday, asking the two bureaus to make public their handling of the boys' deaths.
Li said he hopes the public security bureau can disclose whether there is a communication mechanism between the police and education authority to respond to students who desert school, and whether police fulfilled their responsibility of searching for the boys after their guardians reported them missing on Nov 5.
Feng wants the education bureau to specify what measures it took to ensure left-behind children receive schooling and to make sure dropouts will return to school.
"Officials from the education and civil affairs bureaus who were found responsible have been punished, but we have noticed that the public security department was, without any doubt, also responsible for the boys' tragedies," Li said.
"The police failed to act in a timely and effective manner in this case, which is terrible and will make the public feel insecure."
Local civil affairs authorities have provided aid to more than 750 street children since February 2011, and six out of the eight counties and districts have established aid stations, said Tao Jin, an official from Bijie's civil affairs bureau.
Police officers and urban management personnel patrol main streets, tunnels, bridges and underground passes every day from 8:30 am to 9 pm to see if there are people in need of help, he said, without explaining why the officers failed to notice the five children.
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Xinhua, Zheng Jinran and Yang Yao contributed to this story.
(China Daily 11/21/2012 page5)