Poor Chinese children die after lighting fire at home to keep warm

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They died of carbon monoxide poisoning...

Many children in households that have access clean running water, a steady supply of food and electricity, and standard heating systems take these amenities for granted. Why not? They grew up with these things present in their lives. But for these poor Chinese children, reality isn’t the same.

Four poor Chinese children died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in a poor area of southwest China, after lighting a fire to keep themselves warm, a news report said.

The four young brothers, aged four to 11, were left alone at a house in Qingshan, a village in the Yunnan province. Their parents had gone to Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, after their eldest son was sent to detention for fighting, Thepaper.cn reported.

The poor Chinese children lit a fire inside their house on December 24 but kept all the windows and doors closed shut. This led to a build-up of poisonous fumes.

Poor Chinese children die from carbon monoxide poisoning

The couple did not instruct their children on how to safely light a fire before they set out for the provincial capital, according to the boys’ cousin, Lu Yucong.

On the Monday after the incident, the school the three older boys went to called their father to ask about the children’s absence.

Afterwards, the father contacted their neighbour in Qingshan at noon to check their house. The neighbour found the children dead.

Villagers in the area often opt to burn wood or coal in the winter since they can’t afford modern central heating.

“Usually the family warm themselves up by a fire in the kitchen,” the boys’ cousin Lu said.

“Like many other families in the village, they grow corn to make a living – a poor family,” a neighbour was quoted as saying.

Bereaved couple

The children’s father, Chen Caiben, rebuilt their house three years ago, after it was destroyed in an earthquake. To pay for the expense of rebuilding his house, he had to borrow 30,000 yuan (US$4,500) and received government subsidies.

The bereaved couple could not afford to buy coffins for all four of their children. So with the help of relatives and neighbours, they made coffins for their children using wooden boards left over from the earthquake reconstruction programme.

The local government gave the husband and wife 40,000 yuan (US$6137) in aid and benefits while the children’s school called for donations from their community.

poor Chinese children

Image source: South China Morning Post

Not the first time

The tragedy of the poor Chinese children in Qingshan is not new. Similar situations exist in other poor counties and towns in China. During winter, many homes in these poverty-stricken places cannot afford proper heating.

Just a week before the incident, two children died of carbon monoxide poisoning in another village in the same county.

Five years earlier, on November 2012, five boys aged between 9 and 13 died in a poor section of the city of Bijie, Guizhou province. They burned charcoal indoors to keep warm, resulting in the deaths of these poor Chinese children. The incident sparked a national debate on the widening wealth gap as well as children’s safety.

Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enumerated these guidelines  to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

You can read their full list regarding carbon monoxide (CO) here.

  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  • If you smell an odour from your gas refrigerator, have an expert service it. An odour from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.
  • Vent your gas appliances properly. 
  • Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or improvised materials. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.

Education and awareness needed

The deaths of these poor Chinese boys are unfortunate, and we cannot image the heartache their parents must be experiencing. Do keep in mind that the reason for this tragedy isn’t because the parents were being negligent, but because they were poor and uneducated in safe home practices.

So we call on families everywhere to practice safety protocols to protect their families from harm. Educate your children on the do’s and don’ts inside the home to prevent any undue accidents. 

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