Orphans pictured chained up in China
AUTHORITIES have suspended the director of an orphanage in eastern China after photographs showing two mentally disabled children shackled to furniture with metal chains were posted online.
The scandal, the latest example of how the internet and social media have become powerful weapons against human-rights abuses in China, broke late last month when photographs taken at an orphanage in Cangnan county, in Zhejiang province, began circulating online.
One image showed two boys, aged six and nine, eating from bowls while chained to a wooden bench with metal chains, rope and a blue bicycle lock.
“Is it a welfare home or child abuse home?” one user of Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, wrote under the name Kevin-JK356.
Referring to the orphanage’s staff, he added: “Dig them out and make them spend the rest of their lives like this!”
Another angry 'netizen’, Fengse Wangxiang, wrote: “Can this place be called a welfare house? It should be called a violent house.”
Following the online reaction, authorities launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct at the orphanage which was reportedly home to 21 children, 19 of whom were physically or mentally disabled, and staffed by “four elderly women, who had received no training or care provision.” According to a report in the state-controlled Xinhua new agency, local officials admitted “nurses had used chains to confine the two boys, both of whom suffer mental illness”.
Xinhua said nurses had resorted to using chains “to prevent the boys from defecating uncontrollably and hurting other children”.
In a statement released this week Cangnan county’s Communist Party committee said it had placed the orphanage’s director under investigation and was looking into the “possible misconduct” of staff.
The committee vowed to “launch a major clean-up of the orphanage’s sanitation [and] improve living and studying conditions”. Health checks had been arranged for all of the home’s children, the statement added.
Cangnan authorities said they had started “a thorough inspection of all welfare institutes in the county, strengthening supervision and preventing such thing from happening again”.
The case followed widespread outrage on social media websites such as Weibo in June after gruesome pictures were uploaded showing a woman lying beside the 7-month-old foetus she had been forced to abort by local family planning authorities. The online uproar triggered an investigation and two senior local government officials were sacked.
Launched in August 2009, Weibo now has close to 300 million users, just shy of the entire population of the United States.
Doug Young, a media expert from the Journalism School at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said that while Weibo was often used to post “cutesy pictures and strange phenomenon”, it had also become an important forum for those seeking a voice.
“In the absence of more aggressive media like you see in the West or any real official [and] healthier venue for venting grievances, Weibo has filled a niche in society for that kind of thing,” he said.
“Most of the stuff that makes it onto Weibo is not positive news, news that the Communist Party would want blasted into the media,” he added.
In an unrelated case, police said on Friday they had dismantled two major child trafficking gangs, freeing 181 children and making 802 arrests.
Security officials said 10,000 police operatives took part in raids on addresses in 15 provinces.
The operation was launched after the number of pregnant women visiting a health clinic in Hebei province aroused suspicions. Police suspect the clinic was being used to arrange the sale of babies, a widespread practice in China partly as a result of the one-child policy.
Police sources told The Beijing Times the price of trafficked children was on the rise, with baby girls now fetching £5,000 (€6,200) on the black market and boys commanding a fee of up to £8,000 (€10,000).