Mental health in focus as China vows crackdown on school bullies amid rising underage crime, suicide rates

Mental health in focus as China vows crackdown on school bullies amid rising underage crime, suicide rates

China has pledged a nationwide crackdown on campus bullying amid rising cases of juvenile delinquency and suicide in primary and secondary schools, with added focus on the mental health of minors.

The Ministry of Education will also train students, teachers and parents on the laws targeting campus violence, as well as improve disciplinary measures and accountability mechanisms.

In a statement of Friday, the ministry said it would launch a thorough investigation of all primary and secondary schools to detect the risks of “student bullying”.

There would be added focus on strengthening the mental health of pupils, the statement said, with an upgraded system to monitor their psychological well-being and stronger collaboration between schools and hospitals.

The move comes as China tackles a rise in juvenile crime, including alleged murders by schoolchildren, as well as suicides attributed to mental health issues.

3 children arrested in northern China over death of classmate

Last month, three middle school students in Hebei province near Beijing allegedly killed and buried a 13-year-old classmate they reportedly had long bullied. The three accused are all under 14 years old.

Local police, citing an autopsy report, said the victim had wounds to his head, face and back, and the killing appeared “premeditated”.

The case shocked the country and ignited heated debate on Chinese social media on the laws governing juvenile perpetrators of serious crimes.

Mainland China lowered the minimum age for criminal punishment from 14 years to 12 in 2021. However, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s highest prosecutory body, must still decide whether such suspects stand trial.

In its annual review last year, it said cases of juvenile delinquency in China were on the rise and showed a trend of being committed by “underage” perpetrators.

In one case, a 12-year-old boy in central Hubei province was accused last year of killing a 4-year-old girl by pushing her into a cesspit. The case was dismissed earlier this year as the boy was seen as “incapable of criminal responsibility” at the time of the murder.

Police referred as many as 327,000 minors, or those under the age of 18, to prosecutors between 2018 and 2022, an average annual increase of 7.7 per cent, according to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Of these, the alleged offences committed by under-16s increased by a yearly average of 16.7 per cent.

However, the rate of prosecution of minors declined, the data showed.

A rise in teenage suicide rates is also prompting concern. Data from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention last year showed that the suicide rate among five- to 14-year-olds quadrupled between 2010 and 2021, although the overall suicide rate for all age groups declined.

A still from Time Still Turns the Pages, which won Nick Cheuk the award for best new director at the Asian Film Awards last month. Photo: MM2 Studios Hong Kong

Hong Kong film Time Still Turns the Pages, released in mainland cinemas earlier this month, has also sparked social media discussion with its portrayal of issues such as adolescent mental health and domestic violence.

“Domestic violence and educational pressure are the surface issues … while the deeper level is to reveal the generational trauma and social anxiety of East Asian families,” a user posted on Douban, China’s largest movie rating website.

The box office for the movie, the award-winning directorial debut of Nick Cheuk Yik-him, crossed 10 million yuan (about US$1.38 million) this week.

If you have suicidal thoughts or know someone who is experiencing them, help is available. In Hong Kong, you can dial 18111 for the government-run Mental Health Support Hotline. You can also call +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call or text 988 or chat at for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.



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