Chinese social media scheme to raise money for poor children ordered to close pending investigation

Organisers of ‘We Share a Birthday’ project deny any wrongdoing after public questions legitimacy of youngsters’ images, personal details

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 5:53pm

A social media project that sought to raise money for underprivileged children in southern China by asking for donations from people who shared a birthday with the youngsters is under investigation for suspected irregularities.

Shenzhen’s Civil Affairs Bureau said it had ordered the suspension of the “We Share a Birthday” scheme – a collaboration between the Aiyou Future Foundation and 0fenbei.com – following complaints from members of the public, Shenzhen Commercial Daily reported on Tuesday.

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The campaign, which was promoted via the messaging app WeChat, published the photographs and brief details – including birth dates – of 366 children from poor families in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan.

Members of the public were then asked to donate between 100 yuan (US$15) and 200 yuan to the child with whom they shared a birthday, up to a maximum of 1,200 yuan per recipient. The money would be used to support the youngsters’ welfare and education, it said.

As of Sunday, the day on which the scheme was halted, it had raised 2.5 million yuan, according to a report by Xinhua.

The problem arose when supporters of the project complained of seeing the same children’s images against different birth dates. One child was even listed as having been born on February 29, 2009, a date that did not exist, the Xinhua report said.

0fenbei.com said that all of the children featured in the programme were genuine and that its employees had spent almost a month in Zhenxiong county in Yunnan taking their photographs, the Shenzhen Commercial Daily report said.

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The youngsters’ identities had also been verified by local officials, the company said, adding that the repetition of some of the images and the mistakes made on birth dates were a result of human error.

The civil affairs bureau said it was investigating the matter.