Grisly teen murder case shocks China and shines a light on ‘left behind’ children

Grisly teen murder case shocks China and shines a light on ‘left behind’ children - Education - News

The Tragic Death of a “Left Behind” Child in Rural China: A Wake-Up Call for School Bullying, Juvenile Crime, and Mental Health Support

The shocking news of a 13-year-old boy’s murder by his classmates in rural northern China has ignited heated debates and conversations surrounding school bullying, juvenile crime, and the plight of “left behind” children.

Three teenagers have been detained by authorities in Handan city, Hebei province, on suspicion of killing the boy at their junior high school. The gruesome discovery of his disfigured body in an abandoned greenhouse on the outskirts of Handan city last week sent shockwaves across China.

The victim, identified by his surname Wang, was reportedly killed on March 10, and the suspects were taken into custody the following day. The crime appeared to be premeditated, as investigators discovered that they had started digging Wang’s grave a day before they allegedly took his life.

Wang’s family and their lawyer have shared on social media that the boy had long been subjected to bullying by the three classmates, all under the age of 14.

The tragic incident has dominated Chinese social media, generating hundreds of millions of views and eliciting strong reactions from the public. Many are calling for severe punishment for the perpetrators, including the death penalty.

Moreover, the incident shed light on China’s “left behind” children, who are often raised in rural areas by relatives while their parents seek work in cities. Wang and the three suspects were all children of rural migrant workers, according to state media reports.

The welfare of these “left behind” children has become a hidden sacrifice in China’s rapid economic rise. With over one in five Chinese children under the age of 17 – nearly 67 million – being left behind, numerous studies and surveys have shown that they are more vulnerable to mental health issues like depression and anxiety and to bullying.

This is not an isolated incident; there have been numerous tragic incidents involving “left behind” children in recent years, both as victims and perpetrators of violent crimes.

Shuang Lu, an assistant professor in social work at the University of Florida, who has studied these children, believes that this incident might just be the tip of the iceberg and emphasizes the need for more mental health support for this entire group.

Wang, who was living with his grandparents while his father worked in a coastal province, went missing on March 10 after leaving home to meet his classmates. Before he vanished and his phone became unresponsive, all of his money on WeChat, China’s super app, totaling 191 yuan ($26), was transferred to one of the classmates.

One of the classmates later confessed to the police that Wang had been killed and led them to his shallow grave, which was only about 100 meters (330 feet) from one of the suspects’ homes. Wang’s uncle identified the body, reporting that it was “severely damaged.”

Wang’s father posted a video on Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok), expressing hope for fair and just punishment for the murderers, while also sharing his sadness over losing his son.

The incident has raised concerns about bullying and violence among school children in China, as more incidents are being documented and shared on short-video platforms. In a 2021 study, nearly one in three “left behind” children reported recurrent bullying and victimization, compared to one in four rural children who live with their parents.

Juvenile crime has also risen in China, with 243,000 minors charged between 2020 and 2023, representing an average increase of 5% per year. In 2021, China lowered the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 in a controversial amendment to its criminal law, but mandates that such prosecution must be approved by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

Professor Lu emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues through better mental health care, prevention, and intervention for children in China’s rural areas, where the topic is still stigmatized. In the long run, addressing the deep-rooted inequality between the countryside and cities and granting urban social welfare benefits to rural migrants is crucial for the wellbeing of “left behind” children.