Home / China / Society

Call to expand care for children with disabilities

By He Dan in Nanchang | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-09 00:23

Parents unable to help youngsters is leading cause of abandonment

Call to expand care for children with disabilities 

A caregiver looks after children at the Nanchang Child Welfare Home in Jiangxi province. He Dan / China Daily 

China has been urged to improve its medical aid system for children with major diseases or disabilities to prevent parents abandoning children because they cannot afford the cost of treatment.

"Some 20 years ago, I found that most children were abandoned because they were girls, but now nearly 100 percent of abandoned children are either severely sick or disabled," said Wan Fangrui, a senior pediatrician at Nanchang Third Hospital.

Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, newborn septicemia and congenital heart disease are common conditions among abandoned youngsters, Wan said.

Wan's hospital, in the capital of Jiangxi province, set up a rescue and observation center for abandoned children in cooperation with Nanchang Child Welfare Home in March.

Since then, more than 50 children, ranging in age from a few days to 2 years, have been treated in the center, which is on the first floor of an inpatient building, with some put on respirators and in incubators at its neonatal intensive care unit.

"Some parents left notes when they gave up these children, saying abandoning their babies is their last resort and hope some good-hearted people can save their children," Wan said.

Liu Shenggen with the Jiangxi civil affairs department, which oversees child welfare, said the government pays 20,000 yuan to 120,000 yuan ($3,240 to $19,500) for every abandoned child's medical fees in the center.

"Many poor families in China cannot afford expensive medical bills to cure their children," Liu said.

Zhang Shifeng, director of the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption, confirmed the shift in how many disabled and severely ill children are ending up in State care, and estimated they account for more than 90 percent of youths in some welfare homes.

In August, media reports exposed medical workers at a hospital in Fuping county, Shaanxi province, who had told parents that their newborn babies had life-threatening ailments and persuaded them to give up their children, who were later sold to human traffickers.

Social stigma

Guo Jianlin, deputy director of Nanchang Child Welfare Home, said she noticed a worrying problem that many parents are forced to surrender their children because of the lack of a support system for them to raise severely sick or disabled children.

"Our institution has received many abandoned children with cerebral palsy. They were abandoned at the age of 2 or 3, and I can tell these children were taken good care of before abandonment," she said.

Guo said she realized it was urgent for the government to perfect the medical aid system for children with major diseases and disabilities after a trip to rural areas several years ago.

She joined a medical team that taught rural parents about how to help their children with cerebral palsy undergo rehabilitation training at home.

"What shocked me is that many parents told me they didn't have time to do that. The reality is that they had to work, otherwise the whole family starved," she recalled.

There are few community-based rehabilitation centers in urban areas, let alone in rural areas, that allow parents to leave their children there for rehabilitation during daytime, she said.

However, parents giving up severely sick children because of poverty is only one scenario. In China, people abandon their children due to various and complicated reasons.

The family planning policy restricts most families to one child so parents prefer healthy children to support them in their old age. Young single mothers who cannot afford raising a child on their own and face the social stigma of having an illegitimate child also tend to give up their babies.

Expanded program

China launched a medical aid system for children in 2010 when the Ministry of Health issued a directive that started a pilot program to subsidize children younger than 14 with leukemia and congenital heart diseases in rural areas.

The government expanded the program to cover 20 children's diseases last year.

However, a study on the situation for children with leukemia released by the Chinese Red Cross Foundation and the China Youth University for Political Sciences in May showed that the existing efforts are far from enough.

Of the 1,229 families polled, 47 percent said they had debts of more than 100,000 yuan while more than 75 percent of respondents had an annual income less than 20,000 yuan.

Liu Jitong, a professor of public health at Peking University, said he believes the government should gradually establish a free medical care system for children.

"China should prioritize providing free health services for children when it strives to improve public welfare as children are the most vulnerable group in society," he said.

He suggested the government expand the target group from children under State care to all parentless children, then children in severe plight including poverty, and the final goal of free health care services for all children.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349