Ministries campaign to save street children

Updated: 2013-06-02 06:47

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Government organizations pledged on Saturday to undertake joint efforts to help street children get back to a normal life with special attention given to guarantee their right to education.

Civil affairs authorities must evaluate every street child they work with and determine the child's individual needs and family background before deciding on the best way to help, said a notice jointly released by 10 ministerial-level departments, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Ministry of Education.

"Previous efforts focused on sending street children home, while the children's individual needs, the ability of their families to take them back and the emotional impact of their lives on the street were not given enough attention," said Dou Yupei, vice-minister of civil affairs, "As a result, some of those children soon returned to the street."

Because many children who live on the street are running away from unbearable situations at home, government departments should provide financial support and family counseling to help the parents to raise their children, the notice said.

Some guardians who have difficulties fulfilling their responsibilities can give up custody, and civil affairs authorities should appoint a temporary guardian for the children or send them to foster families, it said.

For older street children who prefer to work, labor authorities should provide free vocational training and offer work opportunities in public sectors for those aged 16 or above.

Teachers and school administrative staffs should improve communication with families to prevent students leaving school because of poverty and ending up living on the street. Educational authorities should establish a system of monitoring of school dropouts, according to the notice.

China has seen growing rates of divorce, crime and violence within families and massive migration of the rural population to urban areas. Amid these conditions, "it is often children who suffer the worst", said Christian Voumard, former China representative of the United Nations Children's Fund.

Street children are "all at risk, not only of physical harm through contact with drugs, child labor, gangs and trafficking, but they are also excluded from society, discriminated against and liable to come in conflict with the law", he said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs arranged for seven street children rescue centers in major cities, including Beijing, Zhengzhou and Wuhan, to send out leaflets about their work and together to exhibit artwork by street children in Beijing's Xidan Cultural Square on Saturday to mark International Children's Day. Throughout June, activities will be held across he nation to raise public awareness of the plight of street children.

The ministry also announced on Saturday that each June 19 will be an "Open Day" at all Chinese rescue centers for homeless people, to help the public to supervise rescue institutions' work.

There are 261 rescue centers for minors across China and they helped about 1.36 million street children from 2003 to 2012, according to the ministry.

Zhang Li - not his real name - a hairdresser with a decent income in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, was rescued as a child from a life on the streets.

At age 11, Zhang was abandoned by his divorced father at a train station, and he had to live on the street.

The 19-year-old said his life got back on track after workers in a mobile rescue van met him on the street and persuaded him to go to the Zhengzhou Street Children Protection Center in 2008. Zhang received some informal education at the center and he later went to live with a foster family. The center sponsored him to study haircutting at a vocational school and helped him to land a job in a salon two years ago.

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