Monday January 14, 2013
Caught in a tricky situation
Made In China
By CHOW HOW BAN
FOLLOWING the fire that claimed seven lives at a private orphanage in Henan province’s Lankao county on Jan 4, many questions have been raised as to how to prevent such unfortunate incidents from recurring.
In the morning inferno that broke out in a two-storey house, its owner Yuan Lihai – a kind woman who set up the orphanage about 20 years ago out of her home and adopted more than 100 children, six children aged between seven months and five as well as a 20-year-old man – died of severe burns.
A 10-year-old boy survived with injuries to his respiratory system. He remains under intensive care at a hospital in Kaifeng city.
When the incident happened, Yuan was sending the older children to school. Her daughter rang her to inform her of the fire. As she arrived at the scene, her orphanage was almost reduced to ashes.
Eighteen children and young people were staying with her prior to the incident. The remaining 10 orphans have been relocated to a welfare home.
Investigations revealed that the fire started from the first floor of the building, possibly because the children played with fire at that time.
According to the local civil affairs department, Yuan’s orphanage was not registered with the authorities and she did not have the proper documents or ability to adopt so many children.
The department claimed that it had offered to relocate some of the children from Yuan’s unlicensed orphanage but Yuan was reluctant to release them.
Yuan was quoted by the local press as saying that the department had been helpful by offering the children under her care living allowances and registering their hukou (residence permit) in the county.
Many such unlicensed orphanages in China fall in a grey area with the fear of closure by the authorities, yet they are much needed to cater to the increasing orphan population.
In its editorial, Beijing News said the death of the seven orphans in the fire reflected the pain of the grassroots charity in China.
“As the custodian (though not lawfully) of the children, Yuan Lihai did not fulfil her responsibility and should be blamed. But it will be too cruel to simply put the blame on her.
“Without her, the fate of these children could have been much more dismal. We have already integrated into the modern civilisation but the adoption of abandoned babies has remained at a primitive stage.
“It still depends very much on good-hearted people and good will to provide only clothing and food for the children. A safe and healthy environment for the growth of the children remains a distant dream,” the daily said.
It also mentioned that when the department said they could not take over the custody of the children from Yuan, it might seem that it was done out of sympathy to Yuan because of her close bond with her adopted children.
In reality, there was suspicion that the department evaded its responsibility and by right the authorities should interfere no matter what and provide assistance accordingly, it added.
China Daily said with a population of 760,000, Lankao county did not have a single licensed orphanage and Yuan had become one of the main care providers in the area.
“This is because the local civil affairs department lacks the money to provide the facilities needed. Even in big cities, there is a scarcity of facilities and well-trained professionals to care for abandoned children. Facilities that do exist tend to accept only the healthiest children as it is more costly to care for the sick or disabled.
“There is a lack of child welfare bodies and the care capacity is much lower than the demand. The fire in Lankao county should be a wake-up call for the whole nation to the urgent need to improve the lives of abandoned children.
“They have already lost the love and care of their parents; we should not desert them again as a nation,” the newspaper said.
> Chow How Ban can be reached at email@example.com