12-year-old Xiao Ming lifted his dirty quilt to uncover a half-filled bag of flour. "Look, I still have food," he said with a smile to a reporter from China Youth Daily. According to the paper's report on April 17, Xiao Ming has lived mostly alone since his parents died three years ago. His two elder brothers have left home to work. Relatives who live about 100 kilometers away visit once in a while. They brought some pies for him on their last visit, but the pies have since gone moldy. The boy gets most of his meals from neighbors.
Another 12-year-old, Xiao Rong, from Luocheng County of Guangxi lost her father to tuberculosis when she was a year and a half. A year later, her mother left home with her stepfather and never returned. Xiao Rong then lived with her grandfather and great-grandmother. In 2002, her grandfather passed away, leaving Xiao Rong to care not only for herself, but also for her 94-year old great-grandmother.
Stories like Xiao Ming and Xiao Rong's are more common than one might think.
According to a survey on the conditions of orphans in China jointly conducted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Social Development and Public Policies Research Center of Beijing Normal University last September, there are 573,000 minors under 18 who fend for themselves. Among them, over 30 percent do not get regular aid from the government. Further, even if they did receive aid, orphans in the rural areas receive much less than orphans in the cities.
On March 29, 15 government departments, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance, jointly issued a document entitled, "Opinions on Enhancing China's Welfare Service for Orphans", urging governments at various levels to incorporate aid for orphans into their respective five-year development plans.
"The document is a step forward. However, the key is whether it can be fully and properly implemented," said Professor Shang Xiaoyuan from Beijing Normal University. Prof Shang compiled the survey on China's orphans.
Existing aid policies that cover orphans include the social security system that guarantees a minimum standard of living in urban and rural areas. In the rural areas, orphans are given basic aid for food, clothing, shelter, medical and funeral expenses (the five guarantees). There is also an aid scheme for extremely impoverished rural households.
But aid is minimal. 54,000 orphans in cities are covered by the minimum standard of living policy. This represents 99 percent of orphans in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and 40 percent in Shaanxi Province and Chongqing Municipality.
In the rural areas, 125,000 orphans are given the five guarantees. Orphans in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guizhou and Hunan provinces each get less than 600 yuan (US$75) annually. In Qinghai, the province with the lowest aid standard, each orphan can gets only 110 yuan (US$14) a year.
According to the survey, most orphans, some 450,000, are in the care of relatives. Only about 69,000 orphans are cared for by government-run welfare organizations.
Prof Shang said in rural areas where relationships between relatives are closer, orphans are usually cared for by their grandparents. He added, however, that some orphans are abused by their relatives. In addition, in families where there are few living relatives, no one takes charge of caring for orphaned children and many live alone.
In cases where the primary breadwinner of a family passes away, caregivers are not able to pay for orphaned children's educational and medical expenses. This forces many children to drop out of school to wander the streets or go out in search of work.
(China.org.cn by Wang Qian April 21, 2006)