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Hubei officials deny orphans froze to death

By He Dan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-02 00:24

Officials in Hubei province confirmed that seven orphans died in a child welfare institution this winter but denied a rumor that they froze to death or were physically abused by the institution's nursing staff.

Wei Guoxiang, from Hubei's Civil Affairs Department, told China Daily that he learned that the children from a welfare home in Shiyan died from various diseases.

"Most children in child welfare homes were abandoned by their parents due to severe diseases or birth defects, so some of them were in critical condition when they were sent to a welfare institution," he said.

"But our welfare homes always try their best to save their lives, and the homes are required to keep a record of every child's death and report it to the civil affairs authorities, so it's impossible to hide the truth."

A netizen who claims to be a university student and who has made posts on popular online forums like Tianya said that during a visit to the child welfare home on Feb 23, he or she saw a teenage girl with a facial scar and bruise, and the girl was too scared to talk about who had hurt her.

The netizen wrote that he or she heard from a whistle-blower in the institution that seven children had died the past few months, and that the nursing staff often beat up children.

The netizen quoted the whistle-blower as saying that "the winter in 2012 saw seven children freeze to death, every child's hands and legs got severe frostbite", adding that the orphanage's director refused to provide heat in order to save money.

Wei said the whistle-blower is an employee who had "a tense relationship" with the head of the institution.

The welfare institution's director could not be reached for comment on Friday.

A civil affairs official surnamed Chen in Shiyan said seven children died in December and January, according to a report on Voc.com.cn, a news portal based in Changsha in Hunan.

Chen said in the report that all seven children died in hospital or on the way to one. Four of the children had severe congenital heart disease, one was born without an anus, one had cerebral palsy and the other was a premature birth.

Chen added that the child welfare institution is newly built with good facilities and every room has heaters.

The institution did not provide heating on Feb 23 as the highest temperature was 17 C, five degrees higher than the temperature required for heating, Chen said.

Chen added that whether the children were abused requires further investigation.

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