Home meant anything but warmth to Wang Qi when he, then 12 years old, was rejected by his divorced parents four years ago, but a mimetic family program is reshaping the boy's idea, if more, perhaps, his life.
When the boy who left his parents in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province in 2002 was picked up three years later by a street children's center in Zhengzhou, a city 500 km away in central Henan Province, the poor waif was "somber, sensitive and extremely defensive," according to Lu Jinwei, his "father" in the mimetic family.
"He stared blankly at the corner of the wall, seldom talked to anybody and never did his share of the housework," said Lu, a former high school teacher who joined the experimental program launched by the United Nations Children's Fund and China's Ministry of Civil Affairs in 2003.
The boy, once controlled by a gang and trained to steal, now works at a beauty salon as an apprentice. Under the arrangement of the center, Wang Qi received a few months' vocational training after he told his "father" the wish to become a barber last year.
The teenager, who remained silent almost for a month to his "parents" and his four "sisters" and "brothers" after he joined the family, now would like to initiate a talk with his customers.
And "How are your family?" is one of the topics with which he would start a chit-chat with regular customers to the salon, most of whom are stylish youngsters, the boy said.
His customers do not know about the dark past of the energetic, handsome boy.
Wang Qi is one of 84 children who have been looked after in five mimetic families in Zhengzhou, where social workers function as parents of street children in households. These children are given room and board, as well as education and training.
However, they would have faced discrimination three years ago as they were often considered "children to be moralized". They were treated in the same way as adult vagrants: gathered and sent back to possibly broken families by relief and administration stations.
Thanks to the UN-China program, the situation has begun to change in Zhengzhou.
"We are helping them with a renewed ideology on street children," said Wang Wanmin, director of the Zhengzhou Street Children's Center.
Posters on how to safeguard the rights of street children - the right to survive, develop, to be protected and participate - are all over the center walls.
This center is a pioneer in China to set up mimetic families although it is common practice in some countries to search for street children and offer them training.
"The center has established a whole set of measures to help street children, which signals the government's growing concerns for their rights," said Liu Jitong, an associate professor with the department of health policies and management of Beijing University.
"The Zhengzhou experience is very important for China as it offers invaluable references to other cities," said sociologist Wang Sibin, also from Beijing University.
Other cities in China are copying Zhengzhou's moves to help street children, according to Zhang Mingliang, director of the Social Welfare and Social Affairs Department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
China will set up aid centers for street children in more than 200 cities, Zhang said.
The Zhengzhou center has been named by the ministry as a training base for civil affairs officials who are engaged in helping street children. Enditem
(Xinhua News Agency May 31, 2006)