Don't let Yueyue's death be in vain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2011, 12:00am


The tragedy of a two-year-old's hit-and-run death in Guangdong last month unleashed a firestorm of criticism in the media and online about modern China's moral decline.

Angry and worried journalists, scholars and members of the public started 'soul searching' for solutions that might have saved the girl.

Two-year-old Wang Yue - nicknamed Yueyue by her family, migrants from Shandong province - was run over twice by vehicles outside her parents' shop in Foshan on October 13.

Surveillance footage showed that 18 people walked past her prone body in the next seven minutes, with not one stopping to help her.

Chen Xianmei, an elderly scavenger, was the first to help pull Yueyue from the road and find the girl's family.

Citing other cases in which individuals facing difficulties or threats found themselves isolated and helpless, many people condemned China's moral standards, saying that despite three decades of rapid economic growth they had slipped to the lowest point in many years.

Others compared similar cases in Hong Kong and other countries and called for legislation, arguing that without proper laws to punish people who refuse to help those in need, simple appeals to morality will do little to encourage people to help strangers.

Such a debate promises to be good for society in the long term but is unlikely to do much in the short term to help children from migrant worker families facing similar difficulties and dangers.

Yueyue died from multiple organ failure and severe brain damage in a Guangzhou hospital about a week after the accident. The fevered moral debate petered out a few days later, without providing any practical solutions.

Just a few days after Yueyue's death, two three-year-olds were hit and killed by vehicles in separate accidents in Guangdong, both just metres away from their parents' shops in small towns in Dongguan and Guangzhou.

Only a few media outlets covered the accidents, few people commented online and they sparked no great debate.

Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang told a high-level provincial meeting that the tragedy of Yueyue was a 'wake-up call' for society and such incidents should never be allowed to happen again.

There is at least one thing that Wang and local authorities can do right away to help prevent them: establish more low-cost kindergartens or schools for children from migrant families.

Let's switch the debate from abstract concepts to practical measures and think about what might have happened if Yueyue's parents had kept a closer eye on her.

If she had been prevented from playing in the street, the accident would never have happened.

But, as some social workers in Dongguan, home to the province's biggest population of migrant workers, told the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News, it is impossible for migrant workers to look after their children properly because of the tough living conditions and great pressure they face.

They said it was also impossible for migrant workers to send their children to local kindergartens or schools because they were too expensive.

Xie Kun, a social worker in Dongguan's Shilong township, said he had witnessed accidents similar to Yueyue's in which children from migrant families were injured by vehicles because their parents had no time to look after them.

Guangdong has more than 20 million migrant workers, the most on the mainland, and previous reports have put the number of school-age children from migrant families at about 3.14 million at the end of last year.

The Nanfang Daily, the mouthpiece of provincial propaganda authorities, admitted in a report in September that such children face difficulties in entering schools.

It is hard to estimate how many younger children from migrant families are facing the same problem because there are no official statistics, but the number is also likely to be high.

The cold-blooded passers-by who ignored Yueyue deserve condemnations and calls for legislation should be heeded.

But Guangdong should also urgently invest more on social welfare for migrant workers and their children.

If more children can be cared for in kindergartens or schools while their parents are at work in the Pearl River Delta's factories, party boss Wang might see fewer tragedies.