Deng Xiaoping's son, Deng Pufeng, will receive a UN Human Rights Award in New York today in recognition of his work to improve conditions for the disabled. The award has focused attention on the desperate circumstances facing about 60 million mentally and physically handicapped people on the mainland, many of them abandoned at birth. Zhang Wenxuan and his wife live in Puyang, Henan province, one of the nation's poorest cities. As part of a locally run programme they have taken more than 70 chronically ill and disabled children into their home since 1997. Mr Zhang is given 300 yuan a month for each child. Although the amount he receives is double the minimum wage for the area, it is not enough. More than 50 of the children in Mr Zhang's care have died. Just 13 remain today and a few others have been adopted by relatives and neighbours. Shocking as these figures may seem, officials in Puyang insist the deaths have occurred through no fault of the foster family. 'They are affectionate, responsible and have done the best they can with limited subsidies,' says Li Ziqin, of the Puyang Civil Affairs Bureau. 'The children are seriously ill and would usually live between several months to several years.' Foster families must be willing, kind and literate. Their financial circumstances are not taken into consideration. Local officials say they are left with little alternative. The city of 3.5 million has no orphanage and without the care provided by the Zhang family and others, these orphans would have been left to perish on the streets. When new regulations come into force, it is feared that is exactly what will happen. Official estimates put the number of orphaned children in China at 100,000. But non-governmental organisations working with orphans say the real figure is many times that amount, perhaps reaching into several million. The vast majority of these children are born with terminal illnesses, or mental and physical handicaps. From the beginning of next year, all foster families will have to have a sustainable income, provide medical care and be educated on the needs of handicapped children. No family will be allowed to foster more than three children at a time. Mr Li says impoverished areas like Puyang will suffer. 'The current fostering system is the only viable option, albeit an unsatisfactory one,' he says.