Gruesome teen murder case shocks China and exposes “abandoned” children

Hong Kong (CNN) — The alleged murder of a 13-year-old boy in rural northern China by his classmates has shocked the country, sparking heated debate about bullying, youth crime and the plight of millions of children growing up in the absence of their migrant worker parents Is.

State media reported last week that police had detained three teenagers on suspicion of murdering a high school boy in a village on the outskirts of Handan city in Hebei province after his dismembered body was found buried in an abandoned greenhouse. Was found.

Authorities in Handan said the boy, identified only by his surname Wang, was killed on March 10 and all suspects were taken into police custody the next day.

According to police, the crime was apparently planned, as investigators discovered that the suspects had begun digging Wang’s shallow grave the day before he was murdered.

Wang’s family and their lawyer said on social media that the boy was being harassed for a long time by three classmates, all of whom are under the age of 14.

His young age, the allegations of molestation and the gruesome nature of the alleged premeditated murder attracted widespread attention and outrage. Discussions about the incident have dominated Chinese social media for days, with millions of views, with many calling for harsher penalties, including the death penalty, for the perpetrators.

The tragedy also shed light on China’s generation of “abandoned” children, who often live in rural areas in the care of relatives while their parents seek work in cities. State media reported that Wang and the three suspects were all children of rural migrant workers.

The welfare of “abandoned” children has become a hidden sacrifice of China’s rapid economic growth, driven by millions of rural migrant workers who have spent years working away from home to support their families.

More than one in five children in China, some 67 million under the age of 17, are “abandoned” by their parents, according to the country’s latest population census in 2020. Many studies and surveys have shown that such children are more vulnerable to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and abuse and harassment.

Wang’s death is the latest in a series of tragic incidents involving “abandoned” children that have sparked public outrage in China in recent years. These children were often the victims, but in some cases, the perpetrators, of violent crimes.

“I think this incident may be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Shuang Lu, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Central Florida who has conducted the study. is required.” -Happen. Of these children.

alleged murder

Wang, who lived with his grandparents while his father worked in a coastal province, was arrested after leaving home to meet his classmates on the afternoon of March 10, state media outlet Beijing News reported. disappeared.

He was last seen sitting on the back of a motorcycle in security camera footage taken from a shop next to the school gate Scooter With three of my classmates.

Before she disappeared and stopped answering her phone, all her money on China’s super app WeChat, amounting to 191 yuan ($26), was transferred to a classmate of hers, according to her father, who was also her friend. Had run away home after getting information about his disappearance. And logged into her son’s social media accounts to find clues to his whereabouts.

At school the next morning, police interrogated three classmates who had previously denied to Wang’s family that they had seen the boy. According to the Beijing News, one of them eventually told police that Wang had been murdered and where he was buried.

According to Beijing News, the tall greenhouse, surrounded by dry grass, was only 100 meters from the home of one of the suspects. The boy’s uncle, who identified the body, told the outlet that Wang’s face was “severely damaged.”

Wang’s father wrote on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, that his son was “beaten to death” and his body was mutilated “beyond recognition.”

“(I hope) the government is fair, open and impartial, imposes severe punishment, and makes murderers pay with their lives!” she wrote under a video that showed screenshots of security camera images they captured of her son’s last public appearance.

Wang’s father did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The family’s lawyer, Zhang Fanqing, said in a video posted on the social media site Weibo on Monday that Wang “suffered harassment from his three classmates for a long time.” The message has since been deleted.

Another classmate told state broadcaster CCTV that three suspects had repeatedly locked Wang in a shed when he went to the bathroom during a class break.

“(Wang) once wrote a note to the classmate sitting across from him, saying he didn’t want to go to class, he wanted to die,” he told the station.

Wang’s aunt told CCTV that the boy had recently been reluctant to go to school and would often ask his grandfather for money before going.

He said, “We thought the guy just wanted to buy some food, so we didn’t think much of it. Now, thinking about it, it all seems a little strange.”

She blamed herself for not paying attention to the signs, recalling a post Wang had made on social media saying she was having suicidal thoughts.

“I felt she was under academic pressure, so I told her, ‘Don’t feel any pressure about your studies. It doesn’t matter whether you study well or not,'” the aunt said.

Children “left behind”

Concerns are rising over bullying and violence among schoolchildren across China, as a growing number of incidents are filmed on cellphones and broadcast on short video platforms.

“Abandoned” children are particularly vulnerable. In a study published in 2021, nearly one in three reported frequent bullying and harassment, compared to one in four rural children living with their parents.

A 2019 survey of “abandoned” children by a Beijing-based NGO found that 90% of them suffered emotional abuse, 65% experienced physical violence, and 30% said they were sexually abused. Was.

Youth crime has also increased in China in recent years. Between 2020 and 2023, prosecutors charged 243,000 minors, an average increase of 5% per year, CCTV reported earlier this month.

In 2021, China lowered the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 in an amendment to its criminal law, although it ordered that such prosecutions must be approved by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the country’s top body for investigation and prosecution.

Lu, a US-based academic, said the law is just one aspect of solving the problem once it occurs, but the key to prevention lies in better care of children’s mental health.

Citing the need for mental improvement, he said, “There must be some deep familial or social reasons behind the child’s behaviour. If their mental health issues are not fundamentally addressed, then (this type of tragedy) will happen in the future.” It may happen again.” Health awareness, prevention, and intervention among children in China’s vast rural areas, where the topic is still often stigmatized.

In the long term, the plight of millions of “abandoned” children can only be addressed by reducing the huge disparity between rural areas and cities, Lu said. For decades, China’s prosperous cities and factories have depended on the cheap labor of countless migrants without providing them access to urban social benefits, including the education of their children.

Many “left behind” children are able to visit their parents only during the holidays, not more than a few times a year.

On Douyin, Wang’s father posted a video of his son playing on the beach and looking at the camera while smiling.

“Dad took you to see the ocean for the first time and asked if you liked it. You said yes, and since then, every summer vacation he brings you here. Even now, I feel as if I’m in a dream, ” she wrote.

“Daddy will never take you to see the sea again, my poor son.”

—CNN correspondents Hassan Tayir and Wayne Chang contributed to this story.

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