Two unrelated youth suicides occurred on consecutive days in Hong Kong this week, sparking renewed calls for changes to the education system. On the morning of Feb. 5, a 16-year-old male committed suicide, followed by a 13-year-old female on the morning of Feb. 6.

Feb. 6 was the first day of school after the Chinese New Year break in Hong Kong. According to an Oriental Daily News interview with Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, students are especially vulnerable after a long break and before school starts due to accumulated academic stress.

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Representatives from the Hong Kong Education Bureau responded on Monday saying that it was saddened by the deaths and appropriate actions have been taken in response. The Bureau has activated the crisis response groups of relevant schools, and staff members have been sent to provide additional support, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

Some argue the two incidents reflect long-term problems in Hong Kong’s education system and have called for change.

One Hong Kong student wrote a letter to the leader of the Civic Party and member of the Legislative Council, Alvin Yeung (楊岳橋), pointing out systematic failures in their education experience.

The letter was published on Yeung’s Facebook page and reads, “I am a middle school student, and like most students in Hong Kong, I cannot see my future.” The student felt this way because, “I learn repetitively each day but cannot see the meaning of it.” Hong Kong’s education system “puts much emphasis on grades but grades are not everything. It not only creates immense pressure for students but also prevents them from developing to be more well-rounded.”

A total of 35 student suicides were reported last year in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau formed a committee to look at the issue. It published a report last November which showed the main causes of student suicide include: mental health issues, psychological concerns, family relationship and adjustment problems, peer relationship problems, school adjustment and academic stress.

The report proposed change in various areas including student support at schools, in families and the roles of media – local studies from the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention revealed that media reporting of student suicides may have a role in triggering further suicidal behavior among youth. It concludes that the most important task is to “restore the support system for our students such that they feel connected with their families, friends and the community.”

According to the World Health Organization, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds globally. Hong Kong’s suicide mortality rate peaked in 2003 with 18.8 (per 100,000 population) and decreased to 12.6 in 2015.

Among East Asian countries, South Korea has the highest suicide mortality rate of 36.8, followed by Japan’s 23.1. Mongolia and China have rates closer to the average regional rate of 9.9 in the Western Pacific with 9.3 and 8.7 respectively. Globally, Southeast Asian countries have the highest regional rate of 17.1.

Editor: Olivia Yang