Program celebrates its 30th anniversary in China
Gao Yuan, who was admitted to the law school at Zhengzhou University three years ago, is still grateful for the "mother" who took care of him as her own child for more than 10 years, and he comes back to see her in neighbouring Kaifeng city whenever he has a vacation. Gao met Bai Hongxia, a single woman of the SOS Children's Village in Kaifeng, Henan province, in 1997 when he was 3 years old. Gao, whose father was killed in a car accident and whose mother had died when he was only 1 year old, was sent to the village by his stepmother, who could not support him after having her own baby.
"I am so proud of him, to see Gao has grown up and become so confident," Bai said.
Gao is one of the thousands of orphans who have benefited from an SOS Children's Village programme that celebrated its 30th birthday this year in China.
Since 1984, when China introduced the family-based care model from SOS Children's Village International, a non-governmental organisation originating in Austria, it has set up 10 SOS Children's Villages in cities that include Beijing and Tianjin, said Li Liguo, minister of Civil Affairs.
The programme has provided care to 2,431 orphans or children who could not get care from their parents, Li said. Of these, 1,223 children have become adults and gone into the workforce in various fields, he added.
Based on the model, each SOS village in China is equipped with facilities such as a kindergarten and youth apartments, and several single women, referred to as "mothers", are hired to take care of the children's daily lives.
"After 30 years' experience, SOS Villages in China have set up a service model that follows international standards and suits China's situation," Li said.
He requires civil affairs departments to intensify their cooperation with the SOS Children's Village International and better provide care to orphaned children.
Despite more Children's Villages being set up in China, their capacity cannot meet the demand, said Li Jinguo, president of SOS Children's Villages China.
China has about 600,000 orphaned children, most of whom are taken care of by their relatives, Li said. About 120,000 orphans live in government-supported children's welfare institutes, he said.
"Many of the children living in the Children's Villages are sent there by their relatives," Li Jinguo said, adding that dozens more Children's Villages are needed for these orphans so "at least a Children's Village is found in every province".
In China, most children's welfare institutes are supported by the government. Some private children's welfare institutions exist, but they lack legal protection because private children's welfare institutions cannot register in China, making the SOS Villages in China the only legal non-governmental children's welfare institute, Li said.
He said that in recent years, funding from the SOS Children's Village International to China is decreasing as donations for the organisation, mostly from European countries, are declining.
"The Chinese government has promised to increase funding to the Children's Village in the future," he said. "The investment from the government has now taken more than half of the total funding for the Children's Villages in China."
"The government should issue a regulation to allow private children's welfare institutes to register so more orphaned children can be taken care of," he added. "As far as I know, authorities are still researching the issue."