Seven residents of an unlicensed orphanage have died in a fire in Henan, central China, making it the province’s second tragedy involving children in one month.
The house of street vendor Yuan Lihai in Lankao County caught fire around 8 a.m. on Jan. 4.
Over the years, Yuan has kept a stall outside of the Lankao County People’s Hospital, and she is known for taking care of abandoned or orphaned children at her own home.
The county currently has no welfare shelter, but Yuan did receive some funding from the local government.
The Associated Press reports that the shelter was not licensed, and that local officials were complicit in the lack of oversight.
Yuan was caring for over 30 children. The deceased, all either young or disabled, were alone at home with a 20-year-old male resident, also one of her wards, while she was taking the others to school, according to Henan Business Daily.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
In August 2011, Lens Visual Magazine’s article “Lives as Trash” described how Yuan Lihai takes care of orphaned and abandoned children in Lankao. During the course of over 25 years, Yuan has taken in more than 100 orphans. Some people praised her for her compassion, saying that otherwise these kids probably would have died a long time ago.
However, others have attacked Yuan for taking care of the children in an unregulated way and selling them on to new families for a profit.
She responded in the press that: “If I’ve sold children, then take me away and have me shot.”
The Lankao County Civil Affairs Bureau’s social assistance chief Feng Jie told the Lens magazine reporter that the reason Yuan takes care of an increasingly large number of abandoned children is because the county does not have any actual orphanages. The reporter asked why the county has not built any, and Feng replied that they are definitely needed, but not a high priority in the county’s development plan.
This is the second major tragedy involving children in Henan Province in only a few weeks.
A man attacked and wounded 22 students and one adult with a knife in an elementary school in Guangshan County on Dec. 14 last year.
Read the original Chinese article.
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