Struggle for Foxconn girl who wanted to die

Struggle is written all over Tian Yu's rosy cheeks as she pulls on a pair of black, cotton-padded pants with her childlike hands.

Her tiny feet are showing early signs of atrophy but there is no time to waste. She needs to get ready for an afternoon of acupuncture and massage therapy at Wuhan's Hongji Orthopaedics Hospital.

There is no guarantee the rehabilitation treatment, costing more than 300 yuan (HK$349.50) a day, will ever see the 17-year-old walk again.

She cannot feel anything below her waist, thanks to three compressed fractures of her spine and four hip fractures suffered when she tried to leap to her death at Foxconn's main factory complex in Shenzhen in March.

She is carrying four metal plates inside her body, wears a urine bag and has been bedridden for the past eight months. It is something she could be facing for the rest of her life.

She says: 'I'm very frustrated. I thought I'd be able to feel my legs after all of the operations and three months of treatment.'

As she lies on the acupuncture bed, a 30-centimetre-long scar, looking like a centipede, is revealed. There are other, messier ones around her waist, souvenirs of the numerous operations she has been through.

With a long road to recovery ahead of her, Tian needs to find the strength to heal the physical injuries and the psychological damage caused by her suicide attempt.

At about 8am on March 17, Tian jumped from her fourth floor dormitory at Foxconn's giant Longhua plant in Shenzhen. She was the fourth Foxconn worker across the country to attempt suicide this year, the youngest, and one of only four survivors. Up to last month, 14 others, aged from 18 to 25, had died.

The dead are no longer able to say what was troubling them, but Tian offers a glimpse of life inside the plant, home to more than 200,000 workers. Foxconn employs about 800,000 workers in 12 factories dotted across nine cities on the mainland. In two of its major Shenzhen plants, there are about 500,000 workers. The company is planning factories in Chengdu , Sichuan province , Wuhan in Hubei and Zhengzhou in Henan .

The Longhua plant was Tian's entire universe after she left her rural home in Menglou, Hubei. The girl, who likes to plant flowers, had been unemployed after completing a computer major at a local vocational school, and spent most of her days lazing around at home.

Certain there was a much bigger world out there than the few hectares of farmland her peasant father had worked all his life, Tian decided to join a cousin who was working at a Shenzhen factory.

However, most factories in Shenzhen do not employ minors so she found a place at Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer of electronics and computer parts. Tian planned to stay there for two years, until she was old enough to join her cousin.

'I had never been to Shenzhen's city centre and just stayed inside the plant,' she said. 'Foxconn is a very large factory with many people. But people are cold there. Friendly chit-chat is not common.'

After basic training, Tian took on her first job. It was not terribly technical, just inspecting computer screens for surface defects. But she was only given a few seconds on each screen before the next rushed along the production line, and the monotonous process continued for 10 hours a day.

She was assigned to live with workers who hailed far from her hometown and who worked different shifts. She says it was almost impossible to make friends at the factory because of its round-the-clock, military-style training and discipline.

After working at Longhua for more than a month, Tian was confused about how to claim her wages. She was told by her supervisor that she needed to go to another Foxconn plant, in the Guanlan district, more than an hour's bus ride away.

With only five yuan left in her pocket and a broken mobile phone, Tian took a bus to recover a month's worth of hard work. The basic wage was 900 yuan and she was expecting a few hundred more for overtime.

'I went from office to office by myself but no one would point me in the right direction,' Tian said. 'They all brushed me away, telling me to go ask someone else.'

It turned into an afternoon of frustration and humiliation.

'I was so angry that my mind went blank,' Tian said. 'Why was it so hard to get what I'd earned? Why must they torture me like this? I felt so bad at the time, and I didn't want to be insulted any more so I went home.'

With no money left, she walked back to her dormitory and cried herself to sleep without dinner. Her dormitory mates were on night shift and there was no one she could turn to to unburden herself.

The next morning she jumped from the dormitory to escape her utter helplessness. 'If I could turn back time, I would wait for my dorm mates to clock off and ask them for a phone. I would call my dad and ask him to get me out of that place.'

Back home in Menglou, Tian has a 16-year-old sister and a 12-year-old brother who is a deaf-mute. Her initial medical treatment was paid for by Foxconn. The family also received 180,000 yuan in compensation now being used to fund her rehabilitation.

Her father, Tian Jiandang , rushed to Shenzhen to look after his daughter after selling all of their pigs and sheep and abandoning his crops - which cost the family its 15,000 yuan annual income.

'I still can't understand why she did it because Tian Yu has always been an obedient girl at home and never a troublemaker,' he said. 'She's a little shy but is popular among friends and very close to her sister.'

He is not sure how long they can afford to keep Tian in the hospital.

'Her walking aid is costing 70,000 yuan and the doctor estimates the money will only last for another six months,' he said.

The family is struggling to continue Tian's medical care but she is strong and determined to recover. She is reading arts and crafts books in the hope that she can support herself again. 'I still need to look after my brother one day,' she says.