GUIYANG, June 13 (Xinhua) -- Friday marked a grim, tear-filled reunion for Ren Xifen and her four children, who died last week after drinking pesticide in southwest China's Guizhou province.
Ren, 32, returned to her hometown of Cizhu village in Qixingguan District, Bijie City, to visit the bodies of her children on Friday, after working and living in south China's Guangdong province for more than a year.
Her children, aged 5 to 13, died after swallowing pesticide on Tuesday in their home in Bijie, one of the poorest areas in the mountainous province. The police determined it was a mass suicide. The bodies were cremated on Friday.
Ren admits she made only one phone call to her husband and children shortly after arriving in Guangdong in March 2014. Since then, she has not contacted the children.
"I did not shoulder my responsibility for them. I had to come back for a final look at them," Ren said in an interview with Xinhua on Friday.
"If there were one more chance, I would have made proper arrangements for them at any cost."
A government employee who accompanied Ren to the visitation said she had been weeping most of the day.
Ren left home to work at a toy plant in Guangdong after a long and bitter dispute with her husband Zhang Fangqi. Zhang moved away from the village in March this year, leaving the children behind.
Local officials have been searching for him in Guangdong following the children's deaths.
Ren said she had high expectations for her only son, the oldest of the siblings.
"He was very lovable. Everyone liked him," Ren recalled, describing him as diligent.
"I am illiterate and cannot even write my own name. I wanted them to perform well in school, unlike me, living a hard life."
But the frequent quarrels between Ren and her husband disrupted family life. Ren said she had not returned to see the children for fear of being beaten by her husband, although she missed them very much.
While investigating the deaths, police found a note from the son which read "thanks for your kindness, but it is time for us to go..."
China has more than 60 million children in rural areas who are left to live with relatives, usually grandparents, as the country's urbanization drive draws millions of parents away from their rural homes to cities for work.
It has become such a common occurrence that they are now referred to as "left-behind children".
In the case of Ren's family, no grandparents were still alive to watch the children, so they were left to fend for themselves, receiving money remitted from the father to a bank account entrusted to the oldest child.
Such arrangements are not uncommon. According to a 2013 report released by the All-China Women's Federation, nearly 3.4 percent of all left-behind children live alone, often falling victims to tragedies such as suicide and human traffickers.
"I hope my family's tragedy will not occur again. If parents take care of their children and guide them, such tragedies will not happen," Ren said.
In 2012, five street children - also from Bijie - died of carbon monoxide poisoning after burning charcoal for warmth in a roadside dumpster.
The unfortunate incident reflects the lack of adequate parental care and social services for thousands of left-behind children.
Following the news of the most recent deaths, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has urged strengthened supervision on relevant affairs, calling on government departments responsible to do solid and meticulous work in caring for those in need.
Li said such tragedies should not happen over and over again, and negligent officials should be held accountable.
Several local officials have been fired or suspended because of the latest tragedy.