Getting street kids into care
Chen Long, a 14-year-old boy who ran away from home and wandered the streets of Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, found life was full of misery until he was saved by social workers.
He is one of thousands of Chinese youngsters who have found themselves in a desperate situation and have been bailed out by the authorities and taken into care.
His story, discussed at a "street children" protection conference in Beijing yesterday, makes for grim reading, although Chen is one of the luckier ones.
Chen, from a very poor farm in Huaxian County, was thinking about leaving home to work in the city when he met a middle-aged man on his way home from school late last year.
The man promised to help the youngster find a job in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province. The next day Chen and the man both secretly climbed onto a freight train.
However, soon afterwards the man stole all Chen's money while the teenager slept and then disappeared.
After wandering the streets for months, Chen was rescued by Zhengzhou police when he lost consciousness due to hunger late last year.
He was sent to the city's children's protection centre where he received food, a shower, new clothes, a physical checkup and counselling, and he went home a few days later.
However, unlike Chen who has a home to go back to, some children at the centre are orphans.
Others do not want to go home, fearing abuse or neglect from their parents, said Wang Wanmin, director of the centre.
"Home sometimes becomes a dangerous place for children who regularly receive violence and abuse from family members and relatives," Wang said at a national conference on street children protection which concluded yesterday in Beijing.
The centre in Zhengzhou has formed several "foster families" to help and protect street children in communities with a favourable environment. In each "family," two or three adult volunteers take care of five or six children until they turn 18.
In recent years, 128 such centres providing protection and education for street children have been built in major Chinese cities, said Li Liguo, the vice-minister of civil affairs.
By the end of 2003, the Chinese Government had spent more than 120 million yuan (US$14.5 million) to establish the centres, providing aid to more than 10,000 children, Li said.
China plans to build more institutions for street children while strengthening co-operation with some international organizations, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Britain-based Save the Children, he said.
In the past three years, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the UNICEF and other international organizations have launched a series of programmes in the cities of Zhengzhou and Changsha in Central China's Hunan Province to form foster families for street children.
"Fortunately, the street children have received help in time from the international community and have gotten away from violence, abuse, drugs and sexual exploitation," said Robert Wilkinson, an official with Save the Children (China).
"Besides food and accommodation, these centres are supposed to provide formal and informal education, rehabilitation and training to help the children better re-enter society," Wilkinson said.