One of the biggest armies of commuters in China consists of pupils of county and township schools, as a result of official policy of closing and merging village schools. Since this has been going on for nearly 10 years, you would not expect safe transport to be an issue that tarnishes the nation's image. But two accidents alone, just a month apart in Gansu and Jiangsu provinces, have claimed the lives of at least 34 children.
The vehicles, a licensed school bus and a kindergarten minivan, were overloaded and most likely in breach of technical safety standards issued last year, as are most of the mainland's nearly 300,000 school buses. These terrible tragedies are not untypical of the danger. On Monday, for example, 37 primary schoolchildren were hurt in a collision between their bus and a dump truck in Shunde , Guangdong, and early this month six were injured when a minibus overloaded with 14 students ran into a ditch in Hebei province. Late last month police may prevented more tragedies when they stopped a nine-seater minibus carrying 21 kindergarten pupils in Fujian , an 11-seater bus carrying 34 kindergarten pupils in Hubei and found 59 children crammed into a minivan in Henan .
These accidents and revelations have sparked national debate and prompted State Council legislative officials to post a draft of new safety regulations for public consultation. Now the State Administration of Work Safety has called on local managers to act on them immediately. What is needed is for Beijing to put its money where its mouth is for the huge cost of replacing and upgrading school buses, not to mention under-funding of rural schools. Regional officials have never had the money to make it practicable to enforce the regulations. Even now the draft legislation says only that the central government will work out cost-sharing plans. If more young lives are not to be needlessly lost, Beijing has to play a more active role in providing money for buses and proper training of drivers and school authorities.