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Shelters needed for homeless children
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-25 08:42

By the time Dong Shan turned 14, he had roamed the streets for seven years. He is one of the lucky ones.

In many ways, Dong is not alone. The number of homeless children is on the rise in China. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, in each of the last three years there were at least 150,000 street children under the age of 16.

Their stories vary, but what doesn't is the lack of support available to them.

The exception may be in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province.

The city, which is a railway hub in North China, built the country's first government-funded shelter especially for street children on March 22, 2002.

About 130 homeless children from more than 20 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have lived at the shelter - the Shijiazhuang Juvenile Protection and Education Centre.

Dong is one of them. He was born at a township in East China's Shandong Province. His parents died when he was only four years old.

A friend of his father took over his parents' property with the excuse of looking after him. A couple of months later, he had completely forsaken the little boy.

By the time Dong was sent to the centre, in September 2002, his life was marked by hardship and betrayal.

For a time, he worked for criminal gangs stealing cars and bicycles.

"I felt quite frightened when I was sent to the centre. I thought it was a place like prison and I could never go out," Dong said. "But now, I consider the centre as my home where I can enjoy the affection and care of my teachers. I live a normal life now."

Dong, who never got any kind of schooling, is now a third-grade student.

Zhou Yuncai, one of Dong's teachers, told China Daily that all the children are studying at a level appropriate to their age and educational background. Those who do well in examinations are sent to normal schools.

"The kids need special care and my centre has set up psychology courses for them."

In many ways, Dong and other kids in the Shijiazhuang centre are the lucky ones.

Most of China's homeless children have to take care of themselves or are forced to work or beg for criminal gangs. In return, they get food and a kind of protection on the streets.

Actually, there are many shelters in China that provide temporary food and clothes for vagrant people.

But most shelters do not separate street children from adults, and usually send them back to their hometowns after a short period of supervision.

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