Hundreds of Beijing couples clamouring to adopt orphans

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, 12:00am

Adoption hotlines in Beijing were in meltdown from calls made by couples offering to care for Sichuan's quake orphans, officials said yesterday.

Ever since adoption hotlines were opened last week, 'hundreds of thousands' of Beijing couples had offered homes to children who lost relatives, said Wu Shixiong, director of the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau.

'Hundreds of calls are being taken daily from families wanting to help by adopting children from Sichuan. It underscores the sense of unity over the tragedy,' Mr Wu said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said yesterday that 70 children had so far been classed as orphans.

Within hours of the quake, Mr Wu's department began working with the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Bureau, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Adoption Centre to ensure there was an efficient adoption process. Three hotlines were set up - one specifically for people in the capital who want to adopt.

Mr Wu said applicants would receive forms rapidly and the process of matching orphans with adopted parents would start soon.

There are fears that the adoption process will prove too slow to cope with the influx of orphans.

Mr Wu would not confirm whether the adoption laws would be changed, such as the one-child policy, which strictly governs the size of families in certain regions.

Under adoption rules passed in 1990 by the National People's Congress, applicants should not have children. If the law remains, thousands of couples in the capital could be left disappointed in seeking to expand their single-child families and provide a home for one of the bereaved young.

Kate Redman of Save the Children - who arrived in Chengdu last night to assist with the orphan crisis - urged the authorities and potential adopters to be patient. 'Adopting is not to be taken lightly and plenty of time is needed to consider all the options and complications,' she said.

The priority was to find children's relatives as many would have extended families, she said.

The deputy chief for the Ministry of Civil Affairs' welfare department, Li Bo, said the adoption procedure would be activated only after 'basic order' is restored. He said the work to identify the children and find their families was ongoing. 'We will activate the procedure as soon as the identification is completed.'

Although orphans and other child survivors of the quake are at high risk of psychological trauma and need special care, they have been treated in relief camps or wards for adults.

In Mianyang , children without parents were simply left at Jiuzhou Stadium to live with the 40,000 other victims in soiled tents.

In Chengdu's West China Hospital, the understaffed paediatric department did not have the resources to counsel children who had probably been orphaned.

Additional reporting by Chris Zhang, Ng Tze-wei and Fiona Tam in Beijing