Child victims find a space to call home

By Cang Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-27 08:26
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BEIJING - Children affected by natural disasters in China now have safe places to recover from their trauma.

"The protection of children in disasters requires more than food and psychological consultation," said Song Wenzhen with the National Working Committee on Children and Women.

"Professional knowledge of children's physical and psychological conditions is required," said Song, director of the committee's children department.

To that end the committee and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund have set up "child-friendly spaces" - welcoming places where children can recover from tragedy.

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By March, 40 homes had been established in 21 counties in Sichuan province, which was hit by a 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan county in 2008 that killed nearly 70,000 people.

Four more have been built so far in Yushu, Qinghai province, where more than 2,200 people died following a 7.1-magnitude earthquake.

Besides providing safe spaces to children, the homes supply them and their relatives with emotional, informational and financial support.

More than 332,000 children have benefited from the child-friendly spaces so far, according to the committee.

Children in natural disasters need special nutrition and care, but due to difficulties in communication, their needs are often neglected by relief workers.

"We noticed infants were given meat soup, the same food adults were having, after the Wenchuan earthquake," said Song.

Also, the psychological health of children after disasters needs more attention. Donations of items may sometimes harm their mental state.

"One little girl was so overwhelmed with things she had never owned before, like an MP3 player and new clothes, that she didn't seem upset when telling other people her mother had died in the disaster," she said.

"Relief workers should think seriously what kind of help is appropriate to those children."

According to Song, each child-friendly space has four staff members specializing in child care, such as preschool education and psychology.

An annual assessment system has been developed to supervise the homes.

Experts say children are one of the most vulnerable groups when disasters happen.

Every year about 77 million children under the age of 15 are severely affected by natural disasters and violent confrontations. About 115,000 children die from them yearly, according to a world disaster report.

Zhao Donghua, member of the secretariat of the 10th executive committee of the All-China Women's Federation, said that the needs of women and children will be carefully considered in the future.

The establishment of more child-friendly spaces will be included in the Compendium of Chinese Children's Development 2011-2020. During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, homes for children will be built in 90 percent of Chinese communities, according to the committee.