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May 28, 2012

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Stresses of caring for mentally ill in migrant families lead to killing

WU Changhao, who moved his family to Shanghai from Anhui Province eight years ago in search of a better life, suffers from a recurring nightmare that will haunt him the rest of his life. But it is no dream. He is reliving the day he tied a stone to his 11-year-old daughter, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and threw her into a river.

The tragedy highlights a trend that disturbs sociologists. In the past three months, Shanghai has reported three violent deaths tied to the pressures of migrant families coping unsuccessfully with the responsibility of caring for mentally handicapped relatives.

Another case involved Wang Wenxiang, who killed his mentally disabled brother-in-law to prevent him from causing any disturbance at his own son's wedding.

And then there was the case of Yu Yanli, who saw her husband hitting their schizophrenic son with a brick. Instead of stepping forward to stop him, she dashed into the house, grabbed a knife and killed her only child.

"To them, killing the patients was the fastest way to relieve themselves of burdened lives," said Shi Jinglan, a local prosecutor who handled two of the cases.

The personal tragedies stand in stark contrast to the grand dreams of a better life that drive migrants from poor rural areas into cities like Shanghai. But soon the reality of financial pressures turns dreams to despair, and the sense of misery is exacerbated when there are disabled relatives to care for.

Shi said the suspects in the three recent cases couldn't afford to send their mentally handicapped family members to institutional care and ended up blaming them for the persistent poverty of their lives.

An investigation by Shanghai Daily found that the average cost of a bed in a district mental health hospital in Shanghai ranges between 5,000 yuan (US$791) and 6,000 yuan a month. The cost includes treatment, food and accommodation.

That's a steep price in a city where the average monthly income is only 3,896 yuan. Although the problem stretches across the social spectrum, it hits migrants hardest.

"Migrant workers earn less," Shi said. "They are simply unable to afford long-term care."

When Wu came to Shanghai in 2004, he found a job carrying bricks in Chongming County at a salary of about 1,000 yuan a month.

Wu spent all his savings on treatment for his daughter, but cerebral palsy is a chronic disease with no cure. Wu finally lost hope and tried to send his daughter to a welfare home back in his native Anhui Province. His application was rejected.

He said he killed the child in the end for the good of the family because she would always be an unsupportable burden for them.

"She was growing bigger and heavier, and I realized I could not take care of her for the rest of her life," Wu told prosecutors.

Like Wu, Wang Wenxiang and his wife, Tang Yangye, are migrants from Anhui. When they moved to Shanghai, they brought along her mentally retarded brother, whom they had been caring for back in their hometown. At one point, they did manage to get him into a care home, but it mostly catered to the elderly. The brother proved too disruptive and was kicked out.

Although Shanghai has established free care homes and classes for the mentally handicapped, they generally are not available for migrant families.

Wu and Yu are in custody pending verdicts in their murder cases.


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