The story appears on

Page B7

May 17, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Children live with stigma of AIDS

CHARITY organizations and governments are working to ensure AIDS orphans have daily living essentials and a chance to attend school to give them hope for a better future. Bai Xu and Yu Li report.

It's a spring afternoon and the sun is already scorching the soil of southwest China. But in the adobe huts of Sichuan Province's Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, it is still as dark as night.

In a nearly-empty room with just two beds, a desk and a few stools, three children are playing and eating grilled potatoes. Their clothes and faces are stained with mud, and their only toy is a scruffy gray teddy bear, which the children retrieved from a scrap heap.

"I live just to bring them up," says their 60-year-old grandmother Aniugama, who lives with them in Zhuhe Village, Zhaojue County in Liangshan.

The children are 3, 5 and 6 years old. Their parents died of AIDS, which is prevalent in the prefecture.

Aniugama was widowed when she was 37. She brought up her two sons and two daughters on her own. "When I thought to myself that the good days had finally arrived, I found to my surprise that my sons were stealing things from home," she recalls with a sigh. Her children stole clothes and other possessions to sell for drug money.

A screening in 2002 found that all four of her children were infected with HIV. They all died within five years of one another.

Now, the grandmother and her granddaughters live on a low-income allowance of 408 yuan (US$62.79) a month. Sometimes neighbors give them potatoes and local officials have brought them quilts before.

Their house was built by Zhaojue County's health bureau in 2004. One of the house's beams is broken; when it rains, the roof leaks. Aniugama says she is unable to repair the roof on her own.

However, she says the hardest moments are when the children, seeing other kids eating candy or wearing new clothes, ask her where their parents have gone and why don't they buy them the same gifts.

"I don't know how to answer," she says, wiping away tears. "Sometimes I can't sleep at night. I look at the children, thinking about who will take care of them after my death."

Heavily AIDS-afflicted

Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture boasts a population of 4.73 million people from 14 ethnic groups. Its prefecture seat of Xichang is known as China's primary satellite launching base.

However, the prefecture is also known as one of the country's most heavily AIDS-afflicted areas.

Premier Wen Jiabao visited the area on World AIDS Day last December.

The first case of AIDS was reported in the prefecture in 1995. By the end of last year, the prefecture had registered 21,565 cases.

Most of the infections are contracted by needle-sharing between drug users, according to Yang Wen, vice director of the Sichuan Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sexual contact is also an important channel for the disease's spread, Yang says.

As a result, many young and middle-aged people in the region have become infected. After their deaths, their children are left to be taken care of by elderly relatives.

According to Chen Lunan, head of the children's welfare office of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, there are about 8,000 orphans in Liangshan. Citing difficulties in conducting surveys, he could not give a specific number for orphans whose parents died from AIDS, but says that these children account for a "large proportion" of Liangshan's orphans.

Ye Daiwei, vice secretary general of the China Red Ribbon Foundation, says the prefecture government told him the number of AIDS orphans is about 3,000, but he estimates the real number is higher.

The United Nations Children's Fund in 2010 found about 9 percent of children have AIDS in Zhaojue and Butuo, two of Liangshan's worst-hit counties, and about 4 percent are orphans.

To improve the living standards of these orphans, allowances are provided. Each orphan can receive a monthly allowance of 360 yuan from the central government, as well as another 240 yuan from governments at provincial, prefecture and county levels.

If there are three orphans in a family, their custodian can receive 1,800 yuan per month. This is a great deal of money in Liangshan, where some farmers' families earn just 2,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan per year.

However, only orphans with a hukou, or household registration, are eligible for the subsidy. Many orphans in Liangshan, like Aniugama's three grandchildren, are not covered by the policy as they were not registered after birth.

Healing classes

Several non-government organizations have started working together to help orphans who slip through bureaucratic cracks, including the CRRF, which is co-sponsored by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and dozens of Chinese companies.

In a class funded by the CRRF in Zhaojue, 14-year-old Aremuzhihuo happily chats with her classmates. "I have my 76-year-old grandmother living with me," says the girl. Although she is more optimistic these days, Aremuzhihuo said she became withdrawn after her parents died from AIDS.

"I didn't want to see other children playing or even walking with their parents," she says. "Some children lost their mothers, some lost their fathers, but I lost both."

It was in this class that Aremuzhihuo met children who were dealing with similar circumstances, like 13-year-old Sunziari.

"In the past, I used to cry over the grave of my mother and talk to her photo," she says. But in her class, students exchange letters to comfort each other.

"Whenever I was feeling depressed, I would write to her," she points at Aremuzhihuo. "She would tell me to forget the past and be confident for the future."

The class, which was established in 2006, has 43 children. Eighteen of them lost parents to HIV, according to 26-year-old Mousewusha, a mathematics teacher in charge of the class. He says all of the students' school fees are waived.

The CRRF plans to fund at least three more similar classes this year in Liangshan, with another 150 to 160 orphans to be enrolled, Ye says.

However, Ye says he is worried about the youngest orphans, those between 3 and 8 years old.

"The allowances are given to their custodians, such as their uncles and aunts, but who can ensure the money is actually spent on the children?" he says, adding that there have been cases where the custodians have used the money to purchase drugs.

Ye says the foundation is also planning to set up a "children's village" to raise the youngest orphans until they become old enough to attend school.

More efforts

He is also worried about children who drop out of school or cannot go on to higher education.

Ye believes that a way to resolve this problem would be to set up more vocational schools, so that children who are too old to attend primary schools can learn new skills to help them make a living.

A similar program is already being conducted in Liangshan by UNICEF. Since 2007, UNICEF has worked with local civil affairs authorities to train 200 teenagers to sew, drive, cut hair and use computers, among other vocational skills.

Xu Wenqing, a UNICEF officer in charge of the project, says that civil affairs authorities have also helped the teenagers obtain jobs.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend