Feature

The rise of youth suicide in China

Stress over schoolwork has driven up the youth suicide rate

A 10-year-old boy in China jumped 30 floors to his death after his teacher reportedly told him to, Chinese media reported on Thursday. Jun Jun of Chengdu had been ordered to write a 1,000-character apology for talking during an assembly, and his family said that when he failed to complete the assignment the teacher told him to go jump out a window. The distraught fifth grader evidently took the command seriously. His family said they found "Teacher, I can’t do it," scrawled in one of his textbooks. "I flinched several times when I tried to jump from the building."

Grieving and angry, the family hung a banner outside the school that read: "Return my son! Explain to all parents and kids." The school said on its own Weibo account that the child died "by accident."

Suicide is the top cause of death among Chinese youth, according to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (In most Western countries, accidents cause the greatest number of youth deaths.) Every year, roughly 250,000 people commit suicide in China, while another two million attempt to. Stress over school is usually a major factor, and jumping out of a window is by far the most common method. Experts say that is evidence that these suicides may often be impulsive — as opposed to long-mulled or carefully planned — acts.

It’s become such a problem that some Chinese universities are now forcing incoming students to sign waivers absolving the university of responsibility for a student’s suicide. Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site akin to Twitter, erupted in outrage in September after City College of Dongguan University of Technology made its students sign a "code of conduct" saying they were solely responsible for suicide or injury. That school wasn’t the only one to do so: Shandong Jianzhu University in Jinan said it adopted a similar code and so did many others a few years ago, after a wave of legal claims filed by parents of dead or injured students.

Some experts say China’s one-child policy could play a role in the rise of youth suicide. "Don’t forget that many youngsters today have no siblings," Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong. "Many of them, unlike their parents, never really master the ability to deal with difficult interpersonal relationship problems," he said.

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