The heartbreaking reality for China's abandoned children

Welfare groups believe there are close to a million orphans across China, most of whom are born with disabilities.

The number of abandoned children in China remains disturbingly high.

The number of abandoned children in China remains disturbingly high. Source: CNN

Nine-year-old JiaJia lies on his stomach on what looks like a modified skateboard. Wearing a Superman t-shirt, his arms and legs are outstretched resembling the flying superhero.
"Superman," he says with a smile. "He's so cool."
This is the only way JiaJia can get around. His legs dangle behind him and he uses his impressive upper body strength to pull himself near a table for lunch.
JiaJia is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of botched surgery for spina bifida. When he was just three months old he was abandoned outside a Chinese fertility clinic.
But since then he's made the most of his situation. He's learned to swim, attends school when he can, and can change his own diapers. One day he wants to be a policeman.
"He just wants to be the same as other children his age," says Melody Zhang, the Associate Director of Children's Hope International in Beijing.

A home for JiaJia

The adoption agency has been trying to place JiaJia with a family for years. One had promised to adopt him years ago, but they backed out. Despite touching the hearts of so many who've met him, he's watched a lot of his friends find homes and move away.
His best friend was adopted by an American family, and earlier this year, a couple who attend church with them filed paperwork to adopt JiaJia.
But they have only raised a fraction of the estimated $50,000 in adoption costs. Even if they're successful, it may be months before JiaJia joins them. Speaking with them through Skype, he's told them he wants to be with them "right now."
"He's a really strong, resilient child. He does not show his emotions normally. He tries to be a happy kid," Zhang told CNN. 
But there's pain in his voice as he explains why he wants a family.
"If I have parents, I can live," he said. "I can have a life." 

More heartbreaking cases

The number of abandoned children in China may have dropped over the past decade, but it remains very high. Dozens of new cases are reported each day, and almost all of them have disabilities. 
Some cases are incredibly disturbing. Last week a newborn girl was found stuck in the pipe of a public restroom in Beijing. She was treated at a hospital and taken to a state orphanage.
In May, police rescued a baby who had been buried for ten days in the wilderness of China's southern Guangxi province.
And in 2013, a newborn was found alive inside a toilet pipe in Jinhua. His 22-year-old single mother told police it was an accident and charges were never filed.
Over the past five years, the Chinese government has opened dozens of "baby hatches", detached rooms on the side of orphanages equipped with cribs and incubators so parents can safely give up their babies instead of leaving them in unsafe places.
One in eastern China reported last year it received 106 children within 11 days of its opening. All had disabilities or medical conditions.
"Children's welfare policies are not complete in China," says Wang Zhenyao, Dean of the China Philanthropy Research Institute. "Also, there are too many loopholes in our humanitarian policies." 

Then and now

In 2014 the China Philanthropy Research Institute, which works with UNICEF to produce the annual China Child Welfare Policy Report, said the number of orphans with disabilities has grown by 30,000 to 50,000 every year.  
Welfare groups have said there are close to a million orphans nationwide, but the Chinese government puts the figure at about 600,000.
At the height of China's "one child" policy, orphanages and foster homes were filled with healthy girls. But the laws have been relaxed and societal views have slowly changed.
"Abandoned babies happened frequently before, and the situation was far more complicated," Wang says. "Today, serious health problems would be the main reason children are being abandoned by parents."
Despite rapid economic growth, welfare experts say the world's second largest economy lacks an effective social safety net, which sees hundreds of thousands of orphans become "unadoptable" by law after age 14.

4 min read
Published 13 August 2015 at 6:44am
Source: SBS, CNN