Couples wary of adoption

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 2009, 12:00am

One of the unexpected ways the nation responded to the earthquake came when couples from across the mainland volunteered to take in children who lost parents in the disaster. But one year on, just 12 orphans have been adopted, and those who remain in the state's care face a difficult life, one made worse by permanent physical injury and emotional scars.

The initial outpouring of compassion from the public seemed reassuring. The Sichuan Civil Affairs Department, which handled adoptions after the quake, said it had fielded inquiries from tens of thousands of couples. In the confusing days right after the quake, authorities said there were 5,500 children orphaned by the disaster. As more information emerged and missing parents were located, the number shrank to 1,019 and later to 650, according to Xinhua. Yet just 12 of the children have been adopted, and the rest have gone into orphanages or to live with relatives.

Why so few? Couples who initially expressed an interest became reluctant when they discovered most were left physically handicapped by the quake, according to staff at a county orphanage in Mianyang . They alone received more than 5,000 calls from couples, who later changed their minds.

'No parents adopt anyone from here,' staff member Zhang Ping said. 'All our quake orphans are handicapped and cannot take care of themselves. Many adopters want children under three years old and who are good-looking. None of these orphans meets that criteria.'

Authorities say orphans will be well looked after. The government has pledged to give each child a 600 yuan (HK$682) subsidy every month until they turn 18. But volunteers based in Beichuan gave a different picture.

Many orphans whose grandparents were still alive were not eligible for the subsidy, and those children faced psychological and financial problems.

Song Dianze , a volunteer, said many orphans he had met had yet to recover after seeing their families, homes and farmlands buried under rubble.

'I met a 14-year-old orphan, Zhao Lingling , in Beichuan, whose parents and grandfather were found dead when the entire village was flattened by a mud-rock flow. The boy now lives with his elderly grandmother and nine-year-old sister,' he said.

'He has developed certain psychological disorders and can't concentrate on his studies. The grandmother, who is in her 60s, is forced to work as a casual labourer at nearby construction sites because they couldn't get enough governmental financial aids.

'She said village officials didn't offer any help and she felt anxious about the children's future because she might soon pass away.'

Inadequate funding at orphanages means many children will be fed but otherwise be left unattended. Without proper counselling they are at risk of developing severe problems.