The story of an orphan snatched away this week from a Shenzhen school by officials who neglected him for years sparked an uproar.
Yang Liujin, a 14-year-old boy from an impoverished minority county in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, lost his father when he was six, and was soon abandoned by his mother. The grandparents who were left to care for him died four years ago. Since then, Liujin had lived alone with no help from anyone bar a migrant worker cousin who sent him 500 yuan a year as pocket money. The boy foraged wild plants and caught fish to survive.
His plight surfaced late last month after he was featured on a Guangxi television channel. A week later, the Cambridge International Institute in Shenzhen tracked him down and offered him a place to live and study after obtaining consent from the boy's cousin.
At the same time, more than 5 million yuan (HK$6.3 million) in donations flowed in from around the country. Suddenly, a lot of people wanted to be associated with the boy, including the local government officials in Guangxi who had neglected him for so long.
Last Friday, officials from De'e township, along with his migrant worker cousin, turned up in Shenzhen to take Liujin home "to sort out the donation matters" - prompting an outcry.
Liujin made it clear he did not want to go back to Guangxi, telling the Southern Metropolis Daily that he finally had a home and friends in Shenzhen. His teachers tried their best to keep him there but the cousin and officials claimed they were his guardians and it was their right to act on his behalf. Liujin left on Monday after negotiations between the school and the officials broke down.
The incident highlighted the plight of the nation's abandoned and orphaned children, whose ranks swell by more than 100,000 every year, according to the China Children Welfare Policy Report of 2010.
In the same year, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said there were 712,000 orphans nationwide, of whom only about 14 per cent were covered by the public child-welfare system. Also in 2010, the central government issued a regulation for local governments to provide health care, education, employment and housing for orphans.
Liujin's experience exposed the negligence of a system that allowed the boy to endure abject poverty, alone, for years. China's laws on guardianship are ambiguous and full of loopholes. Many local governments, especially in rural areas, cannot meet the basic needs of orphans.
Experts say the best remedy would be to allow non-government organisations to run children's homes. Rules should be relaxed to allow the likes of the Cambridge Institute to play the role of guardian if governments fail to do so.