Child suicide covered up in China, says think tank as it calls on authorities to publish figures

Report’s assessment of youth suicide suggests academic pressures may have an impact, but authors believe their findings are the tip of an iceberg

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 11:03pm

Child suicide in China is a growing concern, according to a Beijing-based education think tank that has accused the authorities of covering up the extent of the issue.

The 21st Century Education Research Institute urged the authorities to reveal suicide figures so that academics could obtain an accurate picture, including assessing the academic pressures placed on children.

No authority on the mainland releases child suicide statistics, but there are signs that it is more widespread than was thought, said the institute’s director Yang Dongping.

“It’s a serious issue that we can’t turn a blind eye to,” Yang told the South China Morning Post as the think tank published The China Educational Development Yearbook, a study that included an examination of child suicide cases.

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The report found far fewer cases during summer and winter school holidays than at other times, and a rise in cases during the first week of school terms, when many pupils are ranked according to test scores. “This puts a lot of pressure on students,” Yang said.

“Education departments – from central to local authorities – all cover up the numbers of student suicides.

“So we can only use online information as our source to study the issue. But we believe the cases exposed on the internet are just the tip of the iceberg.”

The institute recorded 392 instances of school-age children taking their own life or trying to do so between October 2016 and September 2017.

Among the cases assessed by the report, published in April, pupils aged 13 to 17 were 4.7 times as likely to attempt suicide as those aged 8 to 12, with more cases involving boys than girls.

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The institute’s previous analysis of youth suicide was conducted in 2014, based on collecting 79 cases from around the mainland from 2013.

“In our 2014 report, our researchers searched on the internet to look for cases,” Yang said. “This time, we used a web crawler to capture online posts and media reports in an effort to reduce the possibility of missing any cases.”

In one third of the cases assessed in the report, the researchers found suggestions of quarrels with family members, while in 26 per cent of cases academic pressures had been mentioned.

The backgrounds also included pupil-teacher disputes, psychological problems, love affairs and bullying, the report said.

Ownership or use of mobile phones appeared to have been a subject of parent-child disagreements in the backgrounds to 23 of the cases of suicide or attempted suicide found by the institute.

“In the digital era, young pupils have a deep dependence on smartphones,” said Yang.