Seven children freeze to death in Hubei orphanage

Hubei officials are investigating after online post quotes a worker saying the director refused to turn on the heat to save money

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 4:56am

The death of seven orphans in Shiyan , Hubei , in the past four months has added more fuel to concern about the protection of children.

An online posting said the children had died from the cold after the public orphanage turned off the heat to save money.

But the Shiyan city government rejected the claim last night, saying that initial investigation suggested the children had died from illnesses.

The allegation quoted a woman who worked at the Shiyan Public Welfare House as saying all the children had gangrenous hands or feet because of frostbite.

She said the house's director refused to provide heating to save money for the 100,000 yuan (HK$123,000) in annual property management fees to the city's civil affairs bureau.

A photo of a teenage girl with bruises on her face was attached to the post, which also accused staff of maltreating the orphans.

Shiyan's city government said yesterday that the seven children, who died from October to January, were abandoned babies taken to the orphanage by police or strangers. Four had congenital heart disease, one was born without an anus, one was premature and one had cerebral palsy.

A special team is looking into the problems exposed in the post, the government said. Phone calls to the orphanage went unanswered yesterday.

The scandal has added to concerns over the care of children after several tragedies.

In November, five boys aged nine to 13 died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Guizhou after they climbed into a big refuse bin and lit a fire to keep warm. They were cousins and had been living on the street for several weeks.

In January, a fire killed five boys and two girls, aged four and five, at an unlicensed private orphanage in Henan .

Then, last month, another five boys died in Guizhou while burning straw in a poorly ventilated barn used for curing tobacco.

A report on the website of an association of Christian churches in Hubei in January quoted a worker at the house as saying that children under five had no vests to keep warm.

Internet users questioned how the orphanage used government funds. The Ministry of Civil Affairs requires local governments to spend a minimum of 1,000 yuan a month caring for each child in a public orphanage.