A charity which cares for the offspring of convicts is operating in a legal limbo In a quiet town in Beijing's outlying Shunyi district, a former police officer and her team are trying to make sure the sins of imprisoned parents are not visited on their children. Zhang Shuqin , 56, has spent the past nine years establishing the mainland's first - and only - network of shelters for children of convicted criminals in Beijing, Henan and Shaanxi . More than 600 children have entered the network's six shelters. Ms Zhang's concern for prisoners' children was aroused 20 years ago in Shaanxi when she was deputy editor-in-chief of a provincial prison administration publication. Prisoners repeatedly told her of their fears for their children, and for some the anxiety drove them to attempt suicide or a jailbreak. With its vegetable patch and jujube trees, the Beijing Sun Village is home to 116 youngsters, ranging from infants to adolescents. Most of the children's parents are serving terms of at least 15 years for various crimes, including murder, rape, drug smuggling and human trafficking. Many of the children were left on their own because their mothers had killed their fathers in revenge for long-term domestic violence or affairs. 'The mothers of half the children we have accepted were executed or sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering their husbands,' Ms Zhang said. In other cases, both parents are in prison. 'We only accept children whose parents are unavailable and their grandparents and relatives cannot afford or do not want to bring them up,' she said. The Sun Village's children are aged 10 months to 18 years and are cared for until their parents are released or, failing that, when the children reach adulthood. When they arrive, almost all are malnourished and suffering from the effects of neglect, poverty or even sexual abuse. Eighteen-month-old Uygur girl Boaisian was sent to the village six months ago with her four-year-old sister, Manzila, after Beijing police caught their parents smuggling heroin from Xinjiang . 'Boaisian was so bony when I first saw her. In the past six months she had been taken to hospital three times,' care-giver Liu Zhiyong said. But Manzila beamed, even though in halting Putonghua she said: 'I do not know where Mum has gone.' She fondled a hand-made leather necklace. 'Look, she made this for me.' The Ministry of Justice does not take any responsibility for the children's welfare, while the Ministry of Civil Affairs is only concerned with orphans and homeless children. The shelters are therefore operating in a legal limbo. 'Where there are people, there are crimes. Where there are criminals, there are children. The children are innocent and should not be held accountable for what their parents have done,' Ms Zhang said. The lack of government support has put the villages in an unstable financial situation. Ms Zhang must raise funds from civil groups, individuals and foreign enterprises in China, all the while paying 6 per cent income tax on donations. Retired Hong Kong entrepreneur Mei Greer visited the village in Beijing last week and plans to raise money in the special administrative region for the network. But she says money is not the only thing the children need. 'All [these] children have a very special and bitter past, and now they deserve a more special, excellent environment to make up for that,' Ms Greer said. 'They do not only need money, but care, love, patience and a lot more.'