Thursday, February 21, 2013

Orphanages, Homeless Shelters and the NGO Space in China

I'm reposting a new China Development Brief feature, written by CDB(English)'s Associate Directory, Amanda Brown-Inz, which looks at major Chinese media stories having to do with the civil society space in China.
As a supplement to CDB's Weekly Civil Society News feature, we are launching View from the Media, a weekly column which will summarize and provide analysis of some of the major stories concerning civil society that appear in the Chinese media.

This week, we begin with two cases that sparked widespread controversy in the field: the Lankao Fire Incident and the "Two Freezing to Death" Incident. Both cases draw attention to concerns about government handling of social welfare programming, and to anxieties about the navigation of spaces outside of government administration.
The Lankao Fire Incident refers to a fire that occurred in Lankao County, Henan, on January 4. It was discovered that 7 orphans, who were living under the care of a woman named Yuan Lihai, perished in the fire. Further investigation revealed that Yuan Lihai ran an unofficial, unregistered orphanage that was nonetheless utilized by local authorities in the county, which lacked an official welfare facility for orphans or abandoned children. According to reports, although both the public and the authorities were aware of substandard living conditions in the orphanage and felt that it was "only a matter of time" before this sort of tragedy would befall Yuan Lihai, the orphanage operated for more than 20 years and received financial and material support from the county government.
The spark of media coverage following the fire brought national attention to this incident, and also brought to light a number of similar shortfalls around the country. According to one article, after news of the Lankao affairs prompted the Guangdong provincial government to investigate the quality of public facilities for orphans and abandoned children, an official in Guangdong, whose county had speciously claimed to operate a state-mandated orphanage, sought to "borrow" orphans from a local temple. Of the 2,853 counties in China, the Ministry of Civil Affairs found that only 64 possessed child welfare facilities. The childcare centers in Aid Stations (救助站), present in a number of counties including Lankao, were deemed unsatisfactory even by local officials (for reasons elucidated in the following section).
While it is unclear precisely what sort of response will unfold in the wake of the incident, the Lankao fire raised a number of issues that will affect both local governments and non-governmental service providers. The lack of proper state welfare facilities for orphans and abandoned children has drawn widespread criticism, leading the Ministry of Civil Affairs to pledge assistance in the creation of 500 counties by 2015. As for the private orphanages caring for more than 80 percent of the country's 615,000 reported orphans, it is inclear whether the incident will lead local Civil Affairs Bureaus to develop official relationships with these facilities through procurement of services as hoped by some, or whether government efforts will focus on eradicating the operation of illegal orphanages
The second case receiving widepread media attention this week was the case of two homeless men in Changsha, Hunan who froze to death after repeatedly refusing to go to Aid Stations for care. While the initial response from officials seems to have been that the state should not be held liable for the deaths of these men, who chose not to seek help, the case was further complicated by later reports of an undercover journalist who was beaten by Aid Station employees. The employees claimed that they suspected he was mentally ill and perhaps carrying a weapon, and explained that they were trying to restrain him. As a former MCA official stated, however, such a response would be inappropriate regardless of the suspect's mental state.
The official, Tang Jun, explained in an interview that many of the issues with Aid Stations stem from their previous incarnations as part of the Shelter and Repatriation System (收容遣返制度), which was developed to deal with errant migrant workers in a time when workers were just beginning to leave their homes en masse to seek employment in other provinces. Criticism of the Shelter and Repatriation System led to its disbanding in 2003, when the stations were converted into Aid Stations. Unfortunately, Tang explained, many of the staff have retained their violent habits, and the stations often continue to serve their original purpose of shipping migrants home rather than offering them shelter.
The responses to this case seem to be two-fold, and may cause both positive and negative repercussions. On one hand, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has made efforts to educate Aid Station personnel as to the proper protocol in dealing with these types of situations, so as to make the Aid Stations more hospitable to the homeless. On the other hand, the vows of preventing this sort occurrence may lead to further strong-arming of the homeless into Aid Station facilities, as homeless deaths are felt to reflect poorly on the state. Finally, on the transparency front, a Changsha lawyer has requested that the Aid Station release its financial information, demonstrating a desire among the public to "keep watch" on the stations' activities.
These cases highlight the complex navigation of social welfare provision in the 21st century, as the public becomes increasingly vocal about expectations that the government will provide adequate social services. In some cases, the government may accept direct responsibility for the operation of these services, but the discussion of "social management innovation" in the 16th – 18th Congress reports indicates that the government will begin to rely on the procurement of social services from social organizations. Regardless of which route the government chooses, the focus on social welfare will have significant repercussions for the numerous non-government organizations who currently fill these roles, and for the groups they serve. Non-government service provision organizations will likely receive more supervision from government agencies or face serious restrictions of the scope of their work, and disadvantaged groups will find that their welfare is of greater concern to local government officials. 
By Amanda Brown-Inz,
Associate Director, China Development Brief (English)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A New Dawn For Civil Society After the 18th Party Congress?

I'm reposting a Policy Brief I posted on China Development Brief more than a month ago. In two more weeks, the National People's Congress will be held here in Beijing and Xi Jinping, the new General Secretary of the Communist Party will be anointed as the next President of the People's Republic of China.

POLICY BRIEF NO. 12 (December 2012): A New Dawn After the 18th Party Congress?

After the 18th Party Congress, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who have been anointed to become the new president and premier respectively (they will assume these positions after the next National People’s Congress in March of 2013) made a number of public appearances that gave observers some optimism that the new leadership will be supportive of reforms strengthening China’s civil society, but we will have to wait and see if they follow up with actions, and not just words.

Xi made a trip to the more freewheeling southern province of Guangdong to promote the reforms being carried out there. He also spoke on the 30th anniversary of the 1982 revision to the Constitution, calling for officials to do more to protect citizen rights, including human rights, and promote public confidence in the law. "We must firmly establish, throughout society, the authority of the Constitution and the law and allow the overwhelming masses to fully believe in the law," he said. In a separate meeting with HIV/AIDS activists, Li Keqiang called for the government to provide more support, specifically in terms of registration and funding, to grassroots NGOs engaged in combating HIV/AIDS.

Two other developments caught the media’s eye this month that deserve our attention. One is the government’s effort to build a foundation for government contracting to NGOs, and the other is an effort at the local level to create a “hub” system to better support and manage NGOs. The first effort is important because it heralds a new era of state-NGO collaboration, albeit on the state’s terms, and offers cash-strapped NGOs a new source of funding. The second is significant because it represents an effort by the local party-state to bring NGOs under their big tent.

Government contracting to NGOs will receive a big boost with the historic decision by the central government to set up a RMB 200 million (USD 32 million) fund in 2013 to purchase social services from social organizations. In line with this announcement, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has issued a “2013 Project Implementation Plan for the Government Financial Support of Social Organizations' Participation in Social Services”, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Finance have jointly issued a set of guidelines about how this fund will be used.

In the other development, the Guangdong provincial government, following in the footsteps of an earlier experiment in Beijing, is putting in place a “hub” system that will use “people’s organizations” such as the Communist Youth League and Women’s Federation, which enjoy close ties to the party-state, as a vehicle for supporting and managing NGOs.