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    China Vows Equal Protections for ‘de Facto Orphans’

    Beginning next year, children of prisoners, drug addicts, and the infirm will receive the same welfare benefits as orphans.

    Chinese authorities on Wednesday announced the country’s first national guideline on protecting “de facto orphans,” defined as children whose parents are drug addicts or prisoners, or otherwise unable to fulfill their legal child-rearing responsibilities.

    Jointly issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Supreme People’s Court, and 10 other government bodies, the guideline entitles de facto orphans to the same social and economic welfare programs that parentless children receive, including government allowances and subsidized education and health care.

    According to the guideline, which will go into effect in January of next year, in cases where both parents are disabled, seriously ill, imprisoned, or undergoing rehab for more than six months, their children will qualify as de facto orphans. Kids whose parents have been declared missing will also fall into this category.

    The guideline is the country’s latest effort to improve child welfare and tackle child abandonment. At a press conference Wednesday, an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs said that there are around 500,000 de facto orphans in China, citing a 2018 survey.

    Kang Yongzhong, the founder of Boundless Love Public Welfare Cultural Advancement Association, a child welfare NGO in the central Chinese city of Hunan, says he welcomes the new guideline. “It’s a recognition of the existence of this group of children — a giant step forward for China’s social development,” Kang told Sixth Tone.

    In 2013, two girls aged 1 and 3 were found starved to death at their home in Nanjing after their mother had abandoned them, sparking anger and heated discussion on parental responsibility. The girls’ father had been jailed months earlier for drug-related offences.

    The guideline stipulates that, among other punishments, parents who abandon their children shall be flagged in China’s national social credit system. In the past year, 14 million people — including loan defaulters, social security cheats, violent patients, delinquent soldiers, and badly behaved passengers — have been added to social credit blacklists and restricted from certain modes of transport. The goal of linking parenting to social credit is to encourage parents to fulfill their duties to their children, deputy civil affairs minister Gao Xiaobing said at Wednesday’s press conference.

    But Kang, the child welfare advocate, believes punishing parents by docking their social credit scores is a slippery slope. “Parents who passively give up their child-rearing responsibilities aren’t the same as those who are indolent or irresponsible,” he said. “These groups should be treated differently. If you don’t make the distinction, a lot of parents could get hurt.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: A brother and sister grasp the iron bars of a gate at a kindergarten in Luoyang, Henan province, June 9, 2014. They’ve been there for over a month, abandoned by their parents. IC)