BEIJING Five unsupervised boys aged 4 to 6 suffocated after lighting a fire inside an abandoned tobacco barn in southwestern China, state media reported Tuesday.
The deaths Monday in the southwestern province of Guizhou focused attention on the welfare of children in one of China's poorest regions.
Three months ago, five runaway boys in the same province died inside a garbage bin, where they lit a fire to stay warm on a cold, damp night in the city of Bijie. Media reports said those boys were largely unsupervised because their parents had sought work in more prosperous parts of the country, and the incident prompted nationwide soul-searching on China's wealth gap and the effects of its economic boom on families in rural areas.
In the latest incident, in Guizhou's Majiang county, the boys were left unsupervised because their parents were helping with a local wedding, Xinhua said. Four of the boys were found dead in the tobacco barn and the fifth boy died later in a hospital, Xinhua said.
A Majiang official confirmed the report Tuesday. He declined to give his name, a common practice among Chinese government officials.
Xinhua said a preliminary investigation showed that the boys were burning hay in the mud-brick structure, which had only one exit. It was unclear why the boys burned the hay, but it may have been to stay warm.
State-run China Central Television said the government gave each of the five families 22,000 yuan ($3,500) and 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of rice as consolation.