To be an orphan. To be fated to be an orphan, how bitter is this lot!- Anon. Chinese Poem, 1st Century BC
Who are the children?
According to Half the Sky’s government partners, there are almost 800,000 known orphaned children in China. It is safe to assume that another 200,000 live "beneath the radar" — undocumented and anonymous — and cannot be counted.
One million children.
Some, of course, are true orphans. Many more have been abandoned — given up because of grinding poverty, unaffordable medical needs, gender preference, broken families.
No matter the reason, the children have one sad thing in common. They have lost their families.
"Whether these children were found at a few days old, wrapped in a blanket on a busy bridge, or discovered at four or five wandering alone with a few belongings near a police station, they now live in state-run institutions and await uncertain futures. The local authorities post their pictures, but no one comes forward."— Karin Evans, Afterword, MeiMei: Portraits from a Chinese Orphanage
Orphaned and abandoned children become wards of the state. They are registered with the police and then are transferred to live in government-run children’s or social (children and adults together) welfare institutions.
Those who are young and healthy will almost certainly find new families in time. Older children and those who are not typically developing or who have moderate to severe special physical challenges are less likely to be adopted.
While conditions in welfare institutions have improved as China prospers, change comes too slowly for a million lost children who must spend all or part of their childhoods without knowing a parent's loving touch.
Their days are long and empty.