Rushing forward to leap: Unfair punishment of ordinary people

In the recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people who attempt or commit suicide by leaping off buildings in a final gesture of protest. Many more threaten to leap off in a bid to gain attention for a labour dispute. In many cases the protestors are alone or in small groups and have exhausted other means of raising their complaint – this is often the case for migrant workers attempting to gain unpaid wages in order to go home and visit their families in Chinese New year after 12 months solid work away from home.

The rise of the phenomenon is disturbing the authorities despite the lack of redress given to deter jumpers. In common slang the term Graceful leapers is used (Tiao louxiu – graceful building jumpers).

In one recent report in the Southern Metropolitan News, police in Guangzhou said that every month, they see some seven to eight cases and even more around New Year time. Most of the causes were wage-arrears and disputes between lovers.

Recently in Xian, local police have announced that for people who attempt to throw themselves off high buildings, especially those who climbed up onto public facilities, such as electricity pylons or flyovers would be punished. The police reported that in addition to the effort and time needed to persuade and rescue the jumpers, their threats caused traffic jams, electricity shutdowns and “social disorder”. When someone threaten to jump, the police had to call the family involved or the work unit, if it was a wage-arrears case and the whole case could involve some 40 people, adding a heavy burden onto their daily work. The police therefore proposed that such attempted jumpers – if and when rescued - should be punished by an administrative detention of not more than 15 days under security management regulations and a fine not more than 200 Yuan.

The Southern Metropolitan News surveyed Guangzhou people’s reactions to this new penalty system in Xian. According to the report, only 35 percent of interviewees (20 in total) in Guangzhou agreed with the punishment, while the rest were against it (45 percent) or believed that any penalty should be decided on a case-by-case basis (20 percent). All raised concerns over the proposal. Some of those interviewed felt that such harsh measures were inhumane; as many attempted suicide cases had urgent needs and problems that needed solving not punishing and that they threatened suicide because they have no other choice.

Indeed, it would be far more effective and humane if the Xian government took responsibility for the problem and, in the case of labour disputes, began to enforce the labour law and help support workers in their attempt to obtain redress.

Sources: Southern Metropolitan News 11 May 2004

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