A report on China's orphaned and abandoned children and the problems they face, the first survey of its kind, was released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Beijing Normal University and Save the Children at China's Orphan Forum on September 29.
According to the survey, there were 573,000 minors who had been orphaned or abandoned by their parents; more than 30 percent of them did not benefit from social security and more than half needed more support. Those in rural areas fared much worse than those in cities.
While calling on NGOs for aid, the Ministry of Civil Affairs is also seeking special funds from central government to provide more support to them.
The survey said Henan Province had more than 50,000 children living without parents, more than any other province. The provinces of Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi each had more than 40,000. Those in these four provinces made up nearly 30 percent of the nationwide figure.
Over 50 percent need more support
The survey found that 200,000 orphaned and abandoned children did not have regular access to social services.
According to the report, rural children constituted 86.3 percent of the total, far more than in the city.
Western provinces were also overrepresented compared to more developed eastern provinces; above 0.13 percent of the population in Tibet and Qinghai, but only 0.01 percent in Beijing and Shanghai.
Only 69,000 orphaned and abandoned children in the country lived in social care.
About 53,000 received urban subsistence allowances, 125,000 enjoyed the "five guarantees" in the countryside, 116,000 of whom received rural poverty support.
"In many places, social security funds only have symbolic meaning. The largest amount of funds available is less than a quarter of ordinary children's living costs. The amount in many regions is even less than one tenth," Shang Xiaoyuan, a professor from Beijing Normal University, said. "If these children are included, those who need more support would number 300,000, 55 percent of total orphaned and abandoned children."
"This is the first time for us to penetrate into the orphaned and abandoned group." Shang said, and local departments of civil affairs only had incomplete statistics before.
"Watershed" in cities and countryside
"We have gone to many orphan homes. Surprising poverty is always the first impression. This phenomenon is especially obvious in the countryside," said Shang.
The level of urban subsistence allowances vary from region to region. Each orphaned or abandoned child in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai can annually receive 3,000-4,000 yuan on average, while those in Henan, Gansu and Ningxia can only receive about 1,000 yuan.
About 25.17 percent of children living without parents in rural areas were found to enjoy the "five guarantees." The annual subsidy standard is 1,191.1 yuan for each child, but those in Guangxi, Guizhou and Hunan could only get under 600 yuan.
About 23.41 percent of rural orphaned and abandoned children received rural poverty support, which in two provinces was less than 200 yuan annually, in seven provinces 200-300 yuan and in ten provinces 300-500 yuan.
The standard in Qinghai was the lowest, with each receiving 110 yuan each year.
New Year support
In practice, even if local authorities provide some aid to orphaned and abandoned children, it is often money and materials during the New Year and other holidays.
Rural-urban differences in support date back to 1993, when urban social assistance was reformed. Central government tried to set up the guarantee system of subsistence allowances for urban residents, and the system was established in 1999 in all cities. This put the situation in cities ahead that in the countryside.
"It is like a watershed. Differences in support for orphans began to appear. Differences do not only lie between city and countryside but also between different areas," one civil affairs department official said.
Funds for the "five guarantees" system in the countryside come mainly from villages and towns collectively, but after reforms of agricultural taxation and fee-collecting, they have begun to encounter financial difficulties.
Ding Sijin, vice director of Anhui Province's Civil Affairs Office said there are no special funds from central government for children living without parents.
Shang believed that since many of the children are adopted by relatives; many are disqualified from the five guarantees.
Hidden trouble of society
About 450,000 orphaned and abandoned children are adopted by relatives, 78.5 percent of the total. Only a few live in social care.
Shang said a lack of support would have a negative impact on their education and medical treatment.
According to the survey, support to children who are not adopted by relatives was more likely to protect them from HIV infection and drug problems.
On Children’s Day, the China Charity Federation and other organizations signed the Declaration on Orphan Support at the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
At the beginning of September, 325 children in Luoning County of Luoyang, Henan Province began to receive a monthly allowance of up to 80 yuan from local government. They could also get 400-500 yuan annually for clothing and blankets, education and medical treatment.
A Luoning civil affairs department official said the funding totaled about 400,000 yuan each year, and included no central government money.
Chen Tiejun, the county's civil affairs department vice director, admitted that it put much pressure on its finances: "The support system will fail without follow up funds."
Wei Jie, president of Save the Children's China Program, said, "We believe that China's orphaned and abandoned children will have a better living environment with the active promotion of civil affairs departments."
(China.org.cn by Li Xiaohua October 24, 2005)