A gruesome discovery in China's montainous Guizhou province has put the spotlight on the 1 to 1.5 million street children living in the world's second largest economy. Last week in Bijie, five male street children ranging from ages seven to thirteen were found lifeless in a 1.5 by 1.5 meter dumpster, succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning after one boy lit some charcoal to keep warm within the closed bin. Chinese users of social media have expressed shock and disgust at the news over the last week, with CNN reporting that many in the nation are now asking broader questions like how society could have allowed such young children to fall through the cracks:
One user on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, wrote: "China is supposedly an intermediate developed country but still can't protect its own children. At the age when they should be enjoying a happy childhood these poor kids are wandering and dying on the streets." (@Datounaonao)
Another said: "I just can't believe this is a story happening in my country today...where are the "relevant departments" doing on this? And "where are the kids' parents? Why give birth to children and then abandon them?" (@Dongsir)
The Telegraph reports that the boys were all cousins and brothers, sons of three brothers, two of which were migrant workers who lived off "collecting rubbish in the Guangdong province." The national outrage has led to the firing of four education and civil affairs officials, and two school principles. Locals say that the five dirty-looking boys had been seen in the neighborhood one week before the discovery, begging for money outside a school.
While local media estimates there over 150,000 street children in China, Dale Rutstein of UNICEF China tells CNN that up to 1.5 million children are thought to be fending for themselves across the country but, given the fluid nature of homelessness, it was hard to keep track. A survey from Guangzhou Children Protection Center in cooperation with the Guangzhou Medical College classifies street children into four major categories: 48% run aways to escape family problems such poverty, divorced parents, or physical abuse. Twenty percent are on the street to "work and earn money" or "see the world." Another ten percent are lost, lured or trafficked. World Crunch notes that these children are on average between 14 and 15 years old, and the majority of them have received less than fo ur years of elementary education.
The Telegraph notes that the deaths came just days after senior leaders in Beijing trumpeted “the Great Chinese renaissance” at the Communist Party’s 18th Congress.