BEIJING - Recently, a fire killed seven children in a private orphanage in the Eastern Chinese town of Lankao.
The woman who runs the Henan province orphanage, Yuan Lihai, called “Loving Mother” by locals, became a controversial figure overnight, even though she has cared for more than 100 abandoned children over the past 20 years. Is she to blame? If not, who could be responsible for this tragedy?
Yuan is a kind mother, who has currently 34 children in her care. There is nothing wrong about wanting to adopt and care for unwanted and disabled children. Rare are those, in our society, who have the courage to do what she does, and her 25-years of charitable deeds are worthy of respect.
However, good intentions don’t necessarily produce good results. When one chooses to adopt children, one also takes on responsibility of being their guardian. Out of the seven lives lost, six were not even five-years-old and the youngest was only seven-months-old. Though it was innocent child play that caused the fire, Yuan, as their guardian, cannot escape blame.
Lankao authorities should take their part of responsibility in this tragedy. Yuan is well known to them. Not only do the civil affairs service donate clothes to her children, the local police also send her abandoned children.
As an illiterate person, Yuan’s deeds are based on goodness, without after thoughts. Lankao’s officials should have realized that it was unacceptable for Yuan all alone to take responsibility for so many children. The Lankao authorities are claiming that neither the county nor the nearby cities have any welfare homes. This excuse is absurd – as big as China is, we can’t even provide proper shelter for these children?
The fundamental cause of this tragedy is that the Chinese government does nothing to help these abandoned orphans.
In the past 25 years, many of the children that Yuan adopted have died prematurely. The death rate of her wards is almost 30 %. Had the local government reacted and provided better care for these poor children, they might have made it to adulthood. These children were abandoned a first time by their parents and then, abandoned a second time by their country.
Scarce welfare vs. adoption
This is a tragedy that could have been avoided. Were the relevant government departments more responsible and the children’s guardian more aware of her own limitations, the outcome wouldn’t have been so tragic. It was just a few days ago that the Supreme People’s Court – the country’s top court – issued a judicial interpretation on dereliction of duty. Government officials found guilty of dereliction of duty leading to fatal accidents will face harsh punishments. Hence, shouldn’t the Lankao local government assume criminal responsibility for what resulted from its omission to act?
It took the death of these orphans for children’s welfare and security issues to finally enter the government’s field of vision. According to data from the ministry of civil affairs, there are currently 615,000 orphans in China, less than 110,000 of who are in public orphanages. Out of the country’s 2853 counties, as few as 64 counties – 2% – have child welfare institutions.
Lankao’s “Loving Mother” is not the only one. There are many others like her across the country, like Wang Xiafen in Hebei who has adopted more than 30 abandoned toddlers in the past 28 years, and Yang Yunxian in Shanxi who has cares for 40 disabled children. Though Lankao authorities have now promised to set up a proper orphanage, what about the rest of the country?
The response is doomed to be inadequate if the government tries to manage everything on its own. It should allow the participation of civil forces and to encourage family adoptions.
Rather than counting on local governments, who have limited financial abilities to handle child welfare, China should set up civil adoption channels. It should provide more information for prospective adoptees and make adoption easier to help orphans find suitable adoptive families. Welfare organizations should be the last fallback. If our society fails to improve in this area, what child will ever want to be born in this country?