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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: May 16, 2011 NO. 20 MAY 19, 2011
Come Home, My Children
Xinjiang takes new initiatives to bring its children wandering in other provinces home


GOING HOME: Arkbel Usuf, a Xinjiang boy, got lost in Heilongjiang Province thousands of miles away from his home. He returned to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with help from the regional government, on May 2 (CFP) 

A train from Beijing arrived at the railway station in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, on May 2. Arkbel Usuf walked off, accompanied by staff from the region's relief management center.

The 10-year-old is the first child brought back to Xinjiang after the regional government launched an initiative in late April to bring home all native Xinjiang children who are astray in other parts of the country.

Xinjiang is reportedly one of the largest sources of street children in China. The regional government has sent teams to search for vagrant children of Xinjiang origin in 19 provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, beginning April 23.

"We'll work closely with these provinces and municipalities. We hope to bring the children back as soon as possible," said Zhang Chunxian, Secretary of the Xinjiang Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Arkbel Usuf was found by the police in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province in the northeast, thousands of miles away from his home.

About two months ago, Arkbel Usuf was taken to Harbin by his uncle, who planned to open a meat-grilling stall there. But the business failed. When his uncle was about to return to Xinjiang with the boy by train, Arkbel Usuf got lost at the railway station. He was wandering on the streets, and was later found by the police and taken to a local relief station.

Since he didn't know his home address, Arkbel Usuf was placed in an SOS children's village in Xinjiang before his family was contacted.

A complex issue

Arkbel Usuf is lucky among Xinjiang children living on the streets in other parts of China, some of whom survive by stealing or begging.

There might be about 30,000 to 50,000 Xinjiang children wandering in other parts of China, according to research by the Institute of Sociology of the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.

This number is significantly higher than that 10 years ago, which was estimated at between 3,000 and 6,000.

These children used to stay in metropolitan cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern Guangdong Province, whereas now, they have spread into other cities in east and central China, according to the research.

The problem of street children is a very complex challenge worldwide, said Dou Yupei, Vice Minister of Civil Affairs, at a news conference held in Beijing in early March.

Dou said the problem is caused by a number of factors. The primary causes are poverty and family breakdowns due to divorce between parents or imprisonment of a parent.

The other factor is that some parents have extremely high expectations on their children, and stressed-out children may become truant or drop out of school. Some children with poor grades get looked down upon and leave home.

Moreover, there are also human traffickers who coerce children to leave home to beg or engage in criminal activities.

Street children in Chinese cities are primarily from economically underdeveloped rural areas in Sichuan, Henan and Anhui provinces and Xinjiang, according to people familiar with the situation.

A report from the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences says an overwhelming majority of Xinjiang children living on the streets in other parts of China are ethnic minority children from poor rural areas in south Xinjiang's Kashi, Hotan and Aksu. Most of them are boys aged 6-15.

More than 90 percent of street children from Xinjiang have been tempted and coerced away from home, and most trafficked children are controlled by traffickers to engage in illegal activities, says the report.

Some Xinjiang children have been lured to more prosperous parts by the prospect of a better life there, and some impoverished parents are acquiescent to their children being taken away to steal and beg and are paid for "lending" their children, reports Beijing-based Outlook magazine.

Police officers say children coerced into gangs and used for street crime usually pickpocket in crowded places such as bus stations and shopping areas. Adult gang leaders often wait nearby. Once a victim catches a child, the gang leader appears and takes the child away by threatening or beating the victim.

China's Criminal Law stipulates that juvenile offenders under 14 are exempt from criminal punishment, yet they should be disciplined by their parents or put in government-run facilities for reformatory education.

Many street children from Xinjiang caught for stealing often do not speak Mandarin or are too young to remember their family's contact information, so it is difficult for police authorities to find their real parents. These children are often picked up by gang leaders who may pose as their family members, and return to the streets soon after being released.

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