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Authorities start forcibly moving children out of 'informal' homes

Fire prompts crackdown on China's orphanages

Many of the children at unofficial orphanages have special needs Many of the children at unofficial orphanages have special needs
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • China
  • January 10, 2013
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After a fire killed seven orphans at the home of Yuan Lihai in eastern Henan province last week, the 10 young children that survived were sent to government welfare centers for children.

But Yuan’s is not the only house orphanage in China to see its kids ordered away by authorities in the aftermath of the blaze.

Teresa Fan, a 20-year-old who grew up in an orphanage in neighboring Shanxi province, says officials instructed her foster parents to send their 25 orphans to a state institution. Fan’s parents refused and despite a visit by the authorities, the order is yet to be enforced.

“[They] inspected around our home, reminded us about possible domestic dangers and then left,” she said.

Following the tragedy in Henan’s Lankao County on January 4, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a notice putting pressure on local officials to step up their grass-roots management of abandoned children and the services they receive.

This has included raids across the country expected to last one month to “acquire comprehensive information about individuals and voluntary organizations taking care of orphans and children with special difficulties.”

The government’s response represents a rare sign of interest in orphanages in many parts of China, particularly in rural areas.

“Once a year during the Chinese New Year, officials come over and give us noodles and pocket money,” says Fan, adding that in the past authorities have typically neither helped nor hindered these informal house orphanages.

Fan’s parents, both aged 65, adopted their first child when they found the baby abandoned on their doorstep.

Like many rural places in the country, there was little in the way of alternatives in a country where house orphanages have filled a void in social services.

The result is an ad-hoc orphanages system in China based on ill-defined rules which often means that taking in dozens of children becomes even more difficult.

Like many other such institutions in the country, Sister Maria’s orphanage in northeastern Hebei province is not registered. But not for want of trying, she adds.

When the nuns tried to register, “we could not even talk with a person in charge as none of them wanted to take responsibility,” says Sister Maria.

Another nun in central Shaanxi province who identified herself as Sister Han says she had similar problems.

Authorities asked her to send all 17 orphans to a government welfare center prior to their proposed official adoption, which is one avenue for acquiring greater legal status.

“But the officials could not even tell me anything about the prerequisites and procedure for adoption,” said Sister Maria.

The government passed an adoption law in 1991, which it amended in 1998, but its provisions all but rule out adoption as an avenue for small families to take in large numbers of young orphans legally.

In November, Sister Han was among a group of nuns who tried to register their homes with the hope of giving every orphan a household register account entitling them to social welfare. However, they were informed it was “impossible” and failed to offer any solutions, she said.

The financial burden is often severe for these unofficial orphanages, many of which rely on donations of food, clothing and cash from local supporters.

In Yuan’s case, she ran a grocery shop selling food to help generate the 87 yuan (US$14) she spent per month raising each child. Education is an additional cost.

“When it comes to school fees it’s all about money,” says Fan. “We hope that the government can offer more assistance regarding education for these young people.”

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