FOUR days into 1993 and the territory's collective conscience has been burdened by its first child suicide, with another schoolgirl attempting to take her own life. This happened on the first day of resumption of lessons for most students after the NewYear holiday. Many will see the self-destructive behaviour of two young children as a far greater indictment of local society than the tragedy that struck Lan Kwai Fong last week. What kind of conditions could persuade an eight-year-old child to throw herself froma seventh-floor window? What kind of pressures must an 11-year-old be under to jump to her death from the top of an apartment block? Something is clearly wrong in any society where children so young think of death as the solution to problems that to most adults - and to the vast majority of children their age - seem to be part of the normal pain of growing up. In the 1991/1992 academic year alone, there were 21 student suicides, aged from 10 to 18. In the 1992 calendar year, there were 17 suicides, more than 50 recorded failed attempts, not to speak of those which do not appear in the official tally. Each time a child takes his own life the same theories of parental failure, social pressures and insensitive school-teachers are touted. High academic demands and heavy homework schedules are thought to take their toll not only on the less able, butalso on the brighter children expected to do well under all circumstances. Individual explanations for the suicidal tendencies which has become so apparent in Hongkong recently seem to bear this out. Yesterday's victims' stories were familiar: the older child appeared upset by her academic performance. The father of the younger girl thought she feared she might be neglected after the birth of her baby sister. Adding to the burden are the special pressures on children felt in the traditional Asian society, where children are expected to behave with a decorum few would expect of their counterparts in the West. Many find communication with their parents is difficult, if not discouraged. Schools can often, through no fault of their own, be insensitive to a child's needs and may not detect a pupil's problems early enough. Alternatively, they may react with punishment and fail to alert the child's parents. The same could be said of most traditional Asian societies, however, where suicide levels are far lower. What singles Hongkong out from the rest, apart from the large number of families where both parents work, is the tension of the territory's lifestyle. Hongkong, second only perhaps to Japan, is a pressure cooker society, which some reports claim has levels of stress ahead of almost any other population outside a war-zone. Inevitably, stress-related behavioural disorders are higher than in placeswhere accommodation is less cramped, the pace of life slower, and children have a far wider range of outlets for pent-up energy. Hongkong may not have experienced the social breakdown other countries have undergone through experiments in high-rise living, largely because of the order, self-discipline and self-reliance of the traditional Chinese family. However the downside of that remarkable self-control is pent-up frustration which the most unexpected trigger can release, with devastating effects. All these explanations seem glib and simplistic when applied to children not yet out of primary school. Whether suicide is considered an act of self-hatred, revenge against parents perceived as unloving, or a desperate cry for help, it is not the normal resort for children so young. Why should it even cross an eight-year-old's mind? At least part of the reason has nothing to do with despair at all. As recently as the 1990/91 school year, there were only three school-age suicides, a pattern similar to previous years. Publicity has changed all that. The copy-cat element in Hongkong's suicides is well recognised by child psychologists. In children as young and impressionable as eight it is probably the paramount factor. Even if a child so young understands the concept of death - and a personal bereavement may have brought it home - he or she may not be able to grasp the fact that it is irreversible. Its effectiveness as a weapon against his parents or teachers, however, is obvious from the publicity received in other suicide cases. Suggestions that the media should adopt a voluntary code of conduct under which student suicide stories would be down-played or even dropped are well-intentioned but dangerous. Operating self-censorship ''for the public good'' is the first step down a slippery slope, in that governments and newspapers frequently disagree on what constitutes public interest. However, it is the duty of all branches of the media to handle such stories with as much care as they can muster.