China

Zhengzhou centre reaches out with care and support for street children

UNICEF Image: China street children
© UNICEF China/2006/Pang
Staff and volunteers at the UNICEF-supported Zhengzhou Street Children Protection Centre reach out to young people at the main train station in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China.

By Kun Li

ZHENGZHOU, China, 24 August 2006 – For quite some time, the train station in Zhengzhou was 14-year-old Xie Pei's only home. After having problems with his family, he ran away and came to this big city, the capital of China’s most populated province, Henan.

“I had a fight with my parents. I left home after that,” he said. “When I first arrived at Zhengzhou, I slept in the square in front of the train station. Using the money I got from selling the bottles, I could buy food to eat.”

As a hub connecting China’s major railroads, the city hosts not only tens of thousands of travellers every day but also scores of homeless children from all over China.

“Based on our research, family problems such as divorce are the major cause of children leaving home,” said Deputy Director Xie Xiaowei of the Zhengzhou Street Children Protection Centre, a local governmental partner of UNICEF. “Many children from the rural areas also want to get a job in the big cities. But because they lack education and skills, when the money runs out, they often end up on the streets.”

UNICEF Image: China street children
© UNICEF China/2006/Pang
Former street children playing chess at a community-based residential home. The decoration on the wall represents a Chinese character meaning ‘family’ or ‘home’.

Outreach and services

The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates that there are about 150,000 street children in China. The real number, however, could be much higher and is on the rise.

UNICEF and the government have come up with new approaches to protect the rights of street children in Zhengzhou.

Around the train station where most of the children arrive, outreach staff and volunteers from the Zhengzhou Street Children Protection Centre regularly bring them food, water and medicine, engage them in conversation and invite them to a nearby 24-hour drop-in centre where shelter and showers are available.

For those who are ready to leave street life behind, the centre provides nutritious meals and dormitory-style accommodations. The children can continue their education and learn vocational skills. Sports, art and music keep them busy while at the same time helping them cope with their often difficult past experiences.

 

UNICEF Image: China street children
© UNICEF China/2006/Pang
Zong Renren (right), 10, with her foster mother Liang Dongmei at their home in Zhengzhou, China.

Community-based care

When children arrive at the centre, the staff traces their origins, trying to reunite them with their families. For those abandoned by their parents, the staff works to place them in community-based residential homes with other street children (no more than seven in most cases).

The centre also helps younger homeless children find foster parents. One such child, 10-year-old Renren, now has all the love and care she once dreamed about. “Before, I didn’t have a home, nobody cared for me,” she said. “Now I have a home, mother and father love me and I can even go to school.”

UNICEF and the government are working to expand the programme for street children from Zhengzhou to the rest of China – so that like Renren, more of them can have a better life and a chance to succeed in the future.


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on programmes that protect the rights of China’s street children.
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