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July 9, 2012

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Lack of supervision can be fatal to children

SUMMER vacation, the happiest period in a student's life, is very stressful to modern working parents, especially migrant workers who can't afford babysitters and don't have relatives close at hand.

The latest case involved two young brothers drowned in an unattended pond in suburban Minhang District over the weekend while their parents worked in a wholesale agricultural market.

The two went missing on Friday night and were found drowned in a pond by a local resident on Saturday morning.

The body of the little brother, 9, was found floating in the Chunshen Pond at 8am. The parents rushed to the site and the mother fainted. The father told firefighters the elder brother was also missing. Firefighters went back to search and they found his body not far away.

Though there is a warning sign near the pond, the water is not enclosed.

Lots of children swim in the pond, about 2 meters deep in the middle.

The father said heavy rain on Friday evening may have caused the tragedy.

The couple has been running a store in the nearby market for many years and they closed the store after the accident.

This is the city's second child-drowning case during this summer vacation.

On July 1, a 12-year-old boy snuck out of his house in Chongming County after his parents asked his sister to look after him since they were working. He jumped in a local river but struggled, and a friend, also a 12-year-old boy, plunged in to save him. Both drowned.

After the tragedy, the Shanghai Education Commission issued a safety alert, reminding parents to keep tabs on their children during the two-month break from school and urging the society at large to ensure a safe environment for kids with energy to burn.

"Summer is the peak time for student deaths from drowning and traffic accidents," the commission said, referring to the top two killers of young people.

Migrant children most vulnerable

Shanghai has more than 500,000 migrant children in kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools. In the summer, most children stay in the city with their parents, who scrounge a living at the bottom rung of the economic ladder year-round to make ends meet. Migrant workers' children account for the majority of the accidental injuries and deaths because of the lack of parental supervision, commission officials said.

To find out how the migrant workers' children spend their summer vacation, Shanghai Daily visited a clothing wholesale market on Qipu Road and a second-hand electronics equipment market on Qiujiang Road. Most of the stalls and shops in the markets are operated by migrants.

Many migrant workers take their children to work with them, but when their attention is on customers, the eyes can stray from the hijinks of children.

The children were found playing among corridors jammed with sometimes precariously perched goods, riding escalators in markets and playing hide-and-seek on heavily trafficked roads.

Some grilled food on bamboo sticks, seemingly unaware of the dangers of the sharp ends of the skewers.

"My son is growing up in the market," said a Qipu Road shop owner Li Aixiang, an Anhui Province native.

"He once fell down the escalator, which left a scar in the forehead."

There are reports of children's hands, or even heads, getting stuck between escalators in supermarkets and malls.

Most migrant workers say they understand the potential safety risk of unsupervised children, but they sadly admit they have no other choices because they need to earn a living.

"I cannot stop worrying about my son, who's playing outside every day," said Wang Xin, a clothing shop owner and father of a 10-year-old. "But there is no one else to look after him at home."

Some families send their children to stay with relatives in native provinces for the summer or enroll them in day care of summer camps, if they can afford it.

Some migrant workers even lock their children up at home while they are away, but that's risky. A six-year-old boy burned to death in his home during the May Day holiday after his parents locked him inside the house to protect him while they were at work. News of kids hurt climbing out of the windows of locked houses to play with friends isn't uncommon.

Some communities and groups sponsor free summer classes and activities for children whose parents have to work, but the number doesn't meet the need.

"I would like to hire a tutor to look after my children," said Wang, the shop owner.

"But my family just can't afford it."


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