Chinese children from poor home die after lighting fire to keep warm

Young brothers had been left alone by their parents in Yunnan province and are thought to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 11:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 11:36pm

Four young brothers aged four to 11 from a poor area of southwest China died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire to keep themselves warm, according to a news website report.

The children had been left alone at home in the village of Qingshan, Yunnan province after their parents went to the provincial capital Kunming following their eldest son’s detention for fighting, Thepaper.cn reported.

The boys lit a fire at home on Sunday, but kept all the windows and doors closed, leading to a build-up of poisonous fumes, according to the article.

The couple did not teach their children how to light a fire safely before they set out for Kunming, the report said, citing a cousin of the boys, Lu Yucong.

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The school attended by the three older boys called their father on Monday morning to ask about the children’s absence.

The father then contacted a neighbour to check on the house at noon, but the children were found dead.

Villagers in the area often burn wood or coal in the winter as they cannot afford modern central heating, the report said.

“Usually the family warm themselves up by a fire in the kitchen,” Lu was quoted as saying.

A neighbour told the website: “Like many other families in the village, they grow corn to make a living – a poor family.”

The boy’s father, Chen Caiben, rebuilt his home three years ago after it was destroyed in an earthquake, the report said.

He had to borrow 30,000 yuan (US$4,500) and also received government subsidies to carry out the work.

The couple did not have enough money to buy coffins for their children so made them with the help of relatives and neighbours with wooden boards left over from the earthquake reconstruction programme, according to the article.

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The local government has given the family 40,000 yuan in aid and benefits, and the children’s school is calling for donations.

One internet user commenting on the story said: “A tough life, and specifically the absence of safe and cheap heating, is the cause of this tragedy.”

Another person wrote online: “There is a heavy burden and a long road to eradicate poverty.”

The tragedy in Qingshan, Qiaojia county – one of the poorest parts of the province – was not the first such case this winter. Two young children died of carbon monoxide poisoning in another village in the county last week.

In November 2012, five boys aged between nine and 13 died in another poverty-stricken area, the city of Bijie in Guizhou, after they burned charcoal to keep warm. It prompted an outpouring of grief and started a national debate on the widening wealth gap and children’s safety.

There is a lack of awareness among some parents when it comes to keeping their children safe, according to Tong Xiaojun, from the China Youth University of Political Studies, who has been researching the area for years.

“Parents should pay more attention to the safety of their children – not only when it comes to lighting fires, but also transport, when they’re playing sport, and how to prevent abuse. It is also important to have a system in place to help raise awareness among parents about their kids’ safety,” she said.