The attempted suicide of a woman in eastern China after years of taking care of her three siblings sparked a debate about the legal responsibilities placed on siblings in the absence of parents.
The 20-year-old from Zhejian province, identified by her surnamed Liu, had been taking care of two younger sisters and a little brother, the oldest of whom is currently 12 years old, after their parents divorced and deserted the family when Liu was little.
Liu was found unconscious on March 23 in a river near a bridge after an apparent attempt to drown herself. The Good Samaritan called the police and an officer named Qiu Changming and another auxiliary policeman jumped into the water to save the woman.
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Liu was sent to the hospital with minor injuries. After refusing to talk to authorities about the incident, she started to cry when her two friends came to the hospital and a woman police officer asked why she wanted to commit suicide.
The young woman said she struggled to make enough money to support her three siblings with her job as a shop assistant in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang.
Her three siblings live with their grandparents in their home in Xuanwei, in the southwestern province of Yunnan and Liu said the pressure had become too much.
“I have tried to kill myself more than once,” Liu told the woman officer while showing her scars on her wrist.
Liu’s said her parents “deserted us, but I cannot desert them”, referring to her brother and sisters.
While the incident happened on March 23, it was only made public on Tuesday, just four days after the April 2 premiere of the movie My Sister, currently the number one movie in China.
The movie follows a young woman who is forced to raise her brother almost 20 years her junior after their parents died. That movie has also sparked a conversation about the responsibilities placed on older siblings when parents cannot take care of their families.
Just as in the movie, Liu touched the hearts of many for having to sacrifice her own future when she was barely a grown-up herself.
She did not do anything wrong but just happened to be born earlier than the other siblings.
A Weibo commenter speaking about Liu
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, one person asked:
“They can save her this time but what about next time? She is only 20. Many people of the same age are still protected by their parents while she had to raise another three children. Most people would feel desperate just thinking about it. How can they have the courage to live on?”
Another said, “It’s difficult for an ordinary family to raise three children, let alone a young girl like her. She did not do anything wrong but just happened to be born earlier than the other siblings.”
Zhang Jing, a lawyer with Beijing Lianggao Law Firm, told Thepaper.cn that the divorced parents still have the legal responsibility to raise the children and could have committed the crime of abandonment if they did not. Elder siblings are only legally responsible for raising underage siblings when the parents are dead.
Zhang said the civil affairs authority where Liu lives should give her financial support or subsidies to take care of the family.
A staff member with Hangzhou Federation for Women told Thepaper.cn that the federation got in touch with Liu, who was not emotionally stable and would not take donations at the moment.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page
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