BEIJING -- The rapid growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China has played an increasingly important role in human rights protection, but more needs to be done to give them a better environment for development, a Chinese official said here on Wednesday.
The number of Chinese NGOs, including non-profit mass organizations, institutions and foundations, increased to 386,000 in 2007 from 266,000 in 2003, said Wang Qiyan, director of the Policy Research Center under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In a paper presented to a human rights seminar here, Wang described the NGOs as "the third force and mechanism with a special advantage, besides the government and the market, to contribute to the improvement and protection of human rights."
He added: "They have played a positive role in China's cause of human rights protection, which regards the rights to live and to develop as core issues."
This was because they had done a lot in helping millions in poverty eradication, disaster relief, medical care, education and environmental protection, he said.
In China's massive poverty-eradication efforts, NGOs such as the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation and the China Charity Federation have made enormous contributions to help vulnerable groups, he said.
Soon after the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan in May, the Red Cross Society of China raised 15.84 billion yuan (US$2.3 billion) in relief funds and facilities through its national network.
Another well-known NGO, the China Youth Development Foundation, has helped more than 2.5 million school drop-outs go back to school through its flagship Project Hope since 1989, Wang said.
He said more than 2,000 NGOs focusing on environmental issues began to demonstrate their power through actions such as initiating environmental protection projects and offering advice to policy makers.
More importantly, the NGOs have worked as a bridge between citizens and governments in the drive to nurture a civil society and promote democracy at the grassroots level, he said.
"As organizations, they can represent individuals to voice their concerns, coordinate dialogues with the government, and supervise the government, which are quite important to the building of democracy in China," he said.
However, the official admitted that the Chinese NGOs were still at a "primary" level compared with those in developed countries. As a result, their potential to protect human rights has not been fully unleashed.
He said the country needs to give more support to the NGOs in terms of tax relief, financial assistance and less intervention from governments.
"Governments should realize the importance of the NGOs that can be a helpful partner in the building and management of a diversified society," he said.