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Photos of two children bound in chains at a government-run welfare home in China have shocked the nation, which has an estimated 712,000 orphans.
The pictures were taken during mealtime when both boys were locked up while eating. They depict Xiao Qun tethered to the back of an old wooden chair by a strip of cloth around his neck. Next to him is eight-year old Guo Cheng, whose right foot was tied to the same chair by an iron chain.
An anonymous staff member told the provincial daily Modern Gold News that the children were tied up after they kept running and playing in the rain, a day before. "They wet their clothing three times, prompting us to lock them up to stop them from going outside," said the staff.
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The images have caused anger with netizens, who have raised concerns for the children, who lost their parents and now, their freedom. They described the images as heartbreaking and a brutal breach of the organisation's charitable spirit.
The home has denied negligence and abuse, saying the boys were tied up to prevent them from defecating uncontrollably and hurting other children. Xiao Qun is suffering from congenital deaf-mutism and epilepsy. He was still a baby when arrived at the home in 2010 and his actual age is unknown; the older child, who was sent there at two-month-old, has schizophrenia and he's capable of violence.
Experts, however, said a lack of professional nursing staff was the main reason the children were chained and said such cases occurred at welfare institutes across China. "The staff just lack knowledge on child caring," said Wu Jiaxing of the county's civil affairs bureau, added there were only four caretakers for a total of 21 children–19 of whom are physically or mentally disabled. "Most of the workers are over 60. They're all retired local housewives who had received no training or care provision."
Investigators found the institution was poorly managed and lacked personnel. Its director Huang Yitao has been suspended on suspicion of dereliction.
According to officials, the orphanage was contracted to the director. The government gives a monthly subsidy of 700 yuan (RM350) for every child there. Minus the monthly salary for each worker at 750 yuan (RM375), the centre has a balance of 11,700 yuan (RM5,830), which is more than enough to fund its daily operations and the hiring of more staff.
Following the scandal, the country's government has pledged to improve amenities and has allocated nine caretakers to the centre. A group of doctors have also offered health check-ups for the children there.
Experts said mismanagement is rampant in China's charity organisations, such as orphanages and charitable nursing homes. In 2010, a worker in an orphanage in Shenzhen was found to have used tape and clamps to force children to "shut up".
Yang Lei, who founded a local day care center in Shanghai, said the "tie up" was widely used in institutes and nursing homes across China and it's less scary than the general public would imagine. "Associated institutes should hire professionals to keep track of the patients' medical history before resorting to tying them up. They need to find out things, such as how often do they have epilepsy and also, the level of schizophrenia should be kept on record."