Alleged arsonists put spotlight on youth needs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2002, 12:00am

The reported confession of two teenagers detained for allegedly starting last weekend's deadly Internet cafe fire came as no surprise to many Beijing residents.

'This [incident] is totally possible. I've met a lot of people like that,' said Zhang Shuqin, a mother, former police officer and director of Children's Village, a suburban care home for children with jailed parents. 'The primary thing is education,' she said.

Beijing police have said the two boys, aged 13 and 14, admitted using petrol to start the blaze at the Lanjisu Internet cafe on Sunday night. The boys said they wanted revenge after cyber-cafe staff refused to let them use their facilities, according to Beijing officials.

The death toll from the blaze rose to 25 yesterday when an employee of the Internet cafe who was badly injured in the fire succumbed to his injuries.

Beijing residents of varying ages blamed a lack of parental oversight and of early education at school or at home.

But younger people blamed Beijing's lack of legal, worthwhile activities for teenagers, who they said probably went to Internet cafes for lack of anything else to do.

Ms Zhang said children with a 'vengeful psychology' sometimes went out and robbed or shot people. She hoped the suspects would receive a sentence of 'more education' at a youth court.

A statement by the city Government said the two suspects came from divorced families and often missed school. 'It's extreme. This is like in the United States and young people with guns, but it's the first time in Beijing,' said Beijing psychologist Liu Zhe, adding the suspects' parents probably raised them in a 'relaxed' manner without instilling in them a sense of right and wrong.

Beijing television showed one of the boys had dyed blond hair with a 'Z' shaved into the back, implying the influence of rebel youth culture. But a Beijing punk rocker in his 20s with his own unconventional hairstyle said China's youth culture did more good than harm.

'This has nothing to do with punk. Punk can let people solve problems,' said Xiao Rong, a singer with the band Brain Failure. 'It has to do with media. There's nothing in it for younger people. If this kind of person gets older, they'll use knives, or go into a restaurant with a gun.'

A 20-year-old university student said she could not imagine why two boys would start a fire. Diana Zhong Minghui suggested youngsters had alternatives to Internet cafes such as coffee houses, which were safe, legal places for them to gather late at night to socialise.