Illegal Orphanage Fire Leaves 7 Dead

Amid concerns about childrens’ safety due to recent traffic accidents involving children and knife attack at a primary school, the BBC reports a fire at an orphanage in Henan has left seven children dead:

Four children died at the scene in Lankao county and three died on the way to hospital, Xinhua news agency said.

One other child, aged about 10, is being treated in hospital. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.

Local residents say that a woman named as Yuan Lihai had used the house to shelter orphans and abandoned children.

It remained unclear how many children were in the house at the time.

According to AP, the fire occurred at an illegal shelter run by Yuan, who took in and cared for 18 abandoned children and young adults:

“There is a direct relationship between today’s situation and the fact that some related government departments failed to enforce supervision and loosened management on purpose,” deputy county governor Wu Changsheng said at a Saturday press conference as quoted by the news report. “They should shoulder responsibility, and that’s a loophole in our work.”

Wu also told reporters that the local government had provided some assistance to Yuan to help her care for the children.

The deaths have spotlighted China’s lack of government-run child services, which have often been left to private citizens with few resources and no legal authority. It is unclear whether Yuan would be punished.

On China’s social media, the public have shown overwhelming sympathy toward Yuan. A Saturday editorial by the official Xinhua News Agency blamed the local government’s inaction and media — who had previously praised Yuan’s actions — for the tragedy.

Although some netizens and officials have expressed sympathy for Yuan, others have accused Yuan of using the children to make money, China Daily reports:

“Yuan generally didn’t stay with the children at night. She hired a local person to take charge of their daily lives. She doesn’t earn much by selling snacks at the gate of the county hospital, so where does all the money (to run the home) come from?” asked one neighbor, who declined to be named.

Some experts and media reports claimed that the local officials have made Yuan a scapegoat because of the public outcry, which has drawn attention to both the inadequate provisions afforded to orphans and a lack of child welfare.

The basis of adoption is not simply being kind-hearted, said Zhang Zhiwei, a lawyer in Beijing, who has followed cases of adoption for more than five years. He attributed the tragedy in Lankao to the lack of a coherent policy. The government should be responsible for the care of orphans, he said.

“Before the tragedy, Yuan’s work won great approval from society. She almost wore a halo. But after the fire, everyone pointed the finger of blame at her.”

As a result of this fire, six county officials have been suspended, from another AP article:

A man from the main office of Lankao government who would only give his surname, Zhao, said Tuesday that six officials had been suspended but he gave no other details.

The deputy county governor had already said that some departments had failed in supervision and management and should shoulder responsibility.

The Global Times reports the fire has provided fuel for the debate on children’s welfare:

The Lankao orphanage fire provides food for thought. There are no accurate statistics showing how many abandoned babies are adopted each year. But we know the total must be large given that more than 80 percent of adopted children were once abandoned babies, and that children born with physical or mental disabilities are all too often given up by their parents.

These large numbers of kids deserve help from the government, private organizations and other social forces. Systematic regulation should be there to clarify responsibilities and standardize procedures.

Unfortunately, China severely lags behind in setting up systems regulating the adoption of abandoned babies and laws that guarantee and protect children’s welfare.

However, further regulation measures are missing, and in reality, many problems exist such as unqualified adoptive parents, illegal adoption procedures and poor supervision. Without clear regulation, local governments turn a blind eye to the adoption of abandoned children.


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