Chinese 'parachute kids' jailed for kidnapping and torturing classmates in California

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Three Chinese students have been jailed in California for attacks against two classmates that included burning one of the victims with cigarettes and forcing her to eat her own hair.

The three attackers and their victims are among thousands of Chinese students known as "parachute kids," who travel to the United States to study and stay with host families while their parents remain in China.

Yunyao Zhai, 18, was sentenced on Wednesday (Feb 17) to 13 years behind bars, Yuhan Yang, 19, was sentenced to 10 years and male co-defendant Xinlei Zhang, 19, got six years.

All three had admitted the charges of kidnap and assault and apologised in court for their actions.

Investigators said the case against the defendants revolved around two separate attacks in March.

The first involved Zhai and Zhang, who assaulted a 16-year-old girl at a restaurant and park in Rowland Heights, a neighbourhood east of Los Angeles with a large Chinese population.

The authorities said the attack took place because Zhai believed the victim disrespected her.

The second attack took place two days later when the three defendants kidnapped an 18-year-old classmate and took her to a Rowland Heights park where she was stripped, repeatedly beaten, spat on, kicked and burned with cigarettes over a five-hour period.

Zhang also provided scissors to cut the woman's hair, which she was then forced to eat, prosecutors said.

Several people who witnessed the attack captured it on their cellphones.

That attack, officials believe, likely stemmed from a dispute over a boy and an unpaid restaurant bill.

The judge overseeing the case said it reminded him of Lord Of The Flies, the 1954 novel by William Golding about boys stranded on a deserted island who gang up on each other.

The case has also prompted soul searching among the Chinese community in Rowland Heights and beyond, with some questioning the wisdom of sending teenagers to a foreign country with no close parental supervision.

"Well-meaning parents of China should not send kids here alone and unsupervised," Yang's attorney Rayford Fountain told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune after the sentencing.

"It is a recipe for disaster."