Support for China’s Orphans

Support for China’s Orphans
Peter Saunders and Xiaoyuan Shang
Professor Peter Saunders and Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang
Professor Peter Saunders and Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang of the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre.
UNSW research contributed to the first census of China's orphans, and led to a significant improvement in the living standards of half a million vulnerable children.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society and none are more needing of support and protection than those without parents. Research from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) has contributed to a significant improvement in the living standards of more than half a million Chinese orphans.

In 2005, Professor Peter Saunders and Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang from the SPRC were troubled by what they could see was a lack of support for orphaned children in China. Coordinated by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs and partnered with Save the Children UK, they organised the first national census with the aim of determining the number and welfare of the orphans, especially those living in rural China.

The census found there were half a million orphans in the country, most of whom received no social or financial assistance.

“Before the research, orphans in China were thought of as only the children who had lost both parents,” says Xiaoyuan Shang. “But we found there were many children whose father had passed away and the mother had remarried, leaving her children behind when she moved away with her new husband.

“This is accepted in Chinese culture: legally the mother has the right to come back and save the children, but usually she doesn’t due to economic and social pressures,” she says.

A second phase of the research involved a detailed examination of the cost of raising these children. The researchers used the budget standards method developed by Professor Saunders for use by the Australian government in the mid-1990s. They created a comprehensive report of the orphans’ cost of living, detailing items including food, clothing, transport and school textbooks.

Based on the findings and the work of a broad alliance of institutions and government agencies, the Chinese government established the Department of Child Welfare within the Ministry of Civil Affairs in 2006.

“Prior to this there was no government organisation or policy to support or protect children in China,” Xiaoyuan Shang says.

In October of the same year, then Chinese President Hu Jintao approved the establishment of a new social support system for Chinese orphans. In 2009, senior officials gave the go-ahead for Chinese orphans to receive a flat-rate living allowance.

Since January 2010, all Chinese orphans have been receiving 600 RMB per month if they are living in foster care or 1000 RMB per child per month for children in the care of the state to provide for their basic needs.

"I like to use the words 'policy entrepreneur' to describe Xiaoyuan Shang. Her research on Chinese orphans provided strong evidence to raise government and public awareness about the extent of the problem. It helped change government policy on orphans and enlightened civil society."
Guangquan Ding, China Country Director, INCLUDED (a non-profit organisation working with migrant communities in China, India and Europe)