The explosion occurred in Yanghui village in Hezhou at around eight o’clock on the morning of 12 November when the children were assembling firecrackers in the workshop before going to school. All of the children were primary school students. At least one child died in the explosion and five others suffered burns on more than 90 percent of their bodies. Another child later died in hospital.
The workshop owner, Xie Qingsui, fled the scene after the explosion, and local police launched a massive manhunt. According to the official Xinhua news agency, Xie was eventually detained by police in Guangxi’s Mengshan county two days later on 14 November. Another man suspected of involvement in the case had earlier handed himself into the local police.
The tragedy highlighted not only the problem of child labour but also the vulnerability of left-behind children in particular to abuse and exploitation. The Party secretary of Yanghui village told Xinhua that about 70 percent of all villagers aged between 20 and 50 years old were currently working away in Guangdong. Their children were left behind with grandparents or other elderly relatives who were unable to give them proper care and attention.
As CLB pointed out in its research report on the children of migrant workers in China, left-behind children are especially vulnerable to crime and exploitation by unscrupulous adults in their neighbourhood precisely because they do not have proper parental care.
The report cites for example a survey on sexual violence in Zhechuan, Henan province, which showed that 34 percent of the 62 rapes in the county involved left-behind children. Most of the victims were only aged between five and 12 years old, while the offenders were usually acquaintances or neighbours aged over 50.