BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK
Rural China's suicide problem
By Daniel Griffiths
BBC News, Beijing

China has one of the highest rates of female suicide in the world. And the problem is most acute in poor rural areas.

Woman works in a field in China
Women in the countryside are most vulnerable to suicide
In his small home, deep in the poor mountainous north of China, Sun Jiangbao slowly lifts himself from his bed into his wheelchair. A recent mining accident left him paralysed from the waist down.

That alone would be hard enough to live with. But just a few years before the accident his wife killed herself by drinking poison after they got into an argument.

Now every day is a struggle to survive. The only person left to care for him is his 60-year-old mother.

"I never believed my wife would kill herself," Mr Sun said. "I'm paralysed and I can't do anything, not even look after my own 12-year-old son."

Mr Sun and his wife had no money, so he went to the city to find work. That pushed their relationship to breaking point.

His story is a common one in rural China.

Li Suxiang
"I saw no point in living. We were the poorest people in a very poor village
Li Suxiang

Three times more women kill themselves in the countryside than in the cities.

More women kill themselves than men in a country where the number of suicides every year is 50% higher than the global average.

There is no mains water supply in this part of China, so Li Suxiang still collects water the old fashioned way - using a pump.

Despite economic reforms, poverty is still widespread in the countryside and the relentless economic hardship pushed Mrs Li to try to commit suicide.

Many women drink pesticides that are easily available in rural China. They kill quickly.

Mrs Li threw herself into a river and was saved by passers by.

"I saw no point in living," she said. "We were the poorest people in a very poor village. My children keep me going now, but then I just wanted to die."

Since then, things have got better for Mrs Li. But not much. She buys and sells old clothes to help make ends meet.

As we chat, she scrubs down the one bed where she and her family of four still sleep together. There is no room for anything more. Poverty is still part of her life.

Xu Rong, Project Officer with Cultural Development Center for Rural Women
Often women can feel trapped, and suicide seems like the only way out
Xu Rong
Community worker

Many women feel the same in the small isolated communities of rural China. So now one organisation is trying to change that.

The Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women tries to try help poor women living in rural areas - offering education and counselling.

Project officer, Xu Rong, said another major factor behind female suicide is that old traditions in the countryside, which give women a low social status, still have not disappeared.

"In the countryside women still move in with their husband's families when they get married in accordance with old customs - so they have no close relatives or friends to turn to when times get tough," she explained.

"If they are having difficulties in their marriage they can't divorce, because everything is in the husband's name so they would be left with nothing. Often women can feel trapped, and suicide seems like the only way out."

China simply does not have the resources to deal with this problem. The country only has 17,000 psychiatrists for a population of 1.3 billion people.

Poverty, tradition and underfunding. Put all that together and you have a crisis - but one that goes largely undetected.

All the time, in the many remote corners of this vast country, the same quiet tragedy is being played out again and again, lost in the thunder of China's headlong rush into the future.



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific