China / Society

Runaways get second chance

By Zhu lixin and Ma Chenguang in Bengbu, Anhui province (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-29 02:51

Rescue centers, govt programs help street children find a home and get an education

A 15-year-old who was begging for food and sleeping on city streets last summer is now attending classes and getting an education.

Wang Kun, 15, experienced the harsh realities of life at a tender age.

His father died when he was very young, and his mother suffers from serious mental health problems.

Wang's uncle, 70, became his guardian, but the elderly man found his new role difficult.

"His uncle was too old to discipline the boy, while the uncle's other family members didn't pay any mind to the teen", said Men Jianlin, head of the Bengbu Rescue and Protection Center for Homeless Juveniles in Anhui province.

Four years ago, Wang fled Qiaokou, a poor village in Huaiyuan, a county in Bengbu, and wandered the city streets but was soon found and sent back to his village.

"One of the main causes of children fleeing is their guardian's unwillingness or inability to take care of them", said Han Chengwu, an official from the Department of Civil Affairs of Anhui Province.

Wang ran away again and again, once catching a ride on a train from Bengbu railway station, headed for a destination he did not know but which was far away.

While the Ministry of Civil Affairs put the number of registered runaway children at some 150,000, author Ju Qing estimated in his book Street Children, published by the People's Publishing House in 2008, that the nationwide figure may stand at around 1 million, most of whom are aged between 8 and 15.

The Shanghai University of Political Science and Law said in a survey in 2010 that as China's economy enters a new phase of development, the problem of street children will become more evident amid rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Governmental and community-based aid should focus more on such children, the university said.

"I begged for food on the streets, from door to door, and slept wherever I could lie down," Wang said in an interview with China Daily.

"I didn't miss home, as I had no real home. I envied people who lived in comfortable, modern high-rise buildings.''

After the boy was reported missing, the rescue and protection center sent out alerts.

His long train journey had taken him to Jiashan county, Zhejiang province, where he finally experienced some good fortune. A migrant worker from Wang's village recognized him when Wang was begging at a restaurant.

With the help of the Bengbu rescue center, Wang ended his 40-day trek and was sent back to Taoqiao Primary School in his village.

The center gives him an allowance of 350 yuan ($57) per month in home support.

Chen Chen from China Youth & Teens Research Center noted that most runaway children — some 80 percent of whom are boys — come from economically underdeveloped areas in Sichuan, Henan, Anhui, Hunan and Shandong, and head for developed areas.

Homeless children are easy prey for ruthless gangs so it is very important to get them back into a caring environment, said Chen.

Wang's life has now turned around and he is in his final year of primary school.

"We are happy to see the teen wants to receive a proper education now, but he is still very introverted," said Wang Yong, head of the school and Wang's teacher.

"Wang is getting along with his classmates and teachers," according to Men from the Bengbu rescue center.

The center has helped more than 3,200 children financially since 2012, according to official data provided to China Daily.

Monthly subsidies provided to each child range from 350 yuan to 1,000 yuan per month, depending on the family conditions.

In May 2013, Bengbu was enlisted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs as the only city in Anhui province to pilot the "Sending Runaways back to School" program among 20 pilot cities and areas nationwide.

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