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2021-05-25 12:05:10

There are 66% fewer orphans in China today compared to just nine years ago, a government official said during a press conference Tuesday.

In 2012, the country had about 570,000 children who had been abandoned or whose parents had died. Today, that figure stands at 190,000, said Zhao Yong, deputy chair of the child welfare department at the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).

The decrease, steady over the past decade, is due to improved social and economic conditions leading to fewer families abandoning newborns, the MCA said in 2019. Previously, China’s one-child policy, in place until 2016, led many families to abandon newborn girls because of the traditional preference for male descendants. In recent years, nearly all abandoned children — 98% — have had a disability or an illness.

The reduction in orphans has led to “idle resources at many child welfare facilities,” Zhao said. Out of China’s 881 state-run child welfare agencies, which usually serve as orphanages, nearly 70% house fewer than 10 children, he added.

In a related official document also released Tuesday, the central government advised child welfare institutes to “integrate” and “optimize” their resources, setting a goal of upgrading their service level by 2025. Zhao said many such facilities currently cannot adequately take care of orphans’ medical and psychological needs.

At the same time, China still has a large number of children the government classifies as “de-facto orphans,” whose parents are unable to provide care for reasons such as illness or handicap, imprisonment, or because they have gone missing. In 2019, there were at least 500,000 such children, one-third more than the number of orphans, according to official statistics.

Most de-facto orphans live with their grandparents instead of in welfare facilities, said Kang Xiong, the chairman of a charitable group in central China’s Hunan province that focuses on helping such children. In 2020, the central government made de-facto orphans eligible for the same subsidies received by orphans, an average of 1,140 yuan ($180) each month.

However, only 250,000 de-facto orphans had been included in the subsidy program as of January 2021. “This is mainly because it takes time to fully register such a massive number of children, and there are also issues at the local government level with deciding who can be considered a de-facto orphan,” Kang told Sixth Tone, adding that he expects full coverage by the end of the year.

With improved health care, better safety standards, and a decline in drug users, Kang said, “I think the number of de-facto orphans will continue to decline.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Children walk upstairs at an orphanage in Bijie, Guizhou province, Sept. 18, 2019. People Visual)