12/17/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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The authorities want to throw out Mgr Jia Zhiguo’s nuns for helping disabled children

Several nuns have been helping tens of disabled children abandoned by the parents, but local authorities accuse them of violating the country’s “birth control policies” and have prevented all donations and visitors from reaching the orphanage they run. For some the nuns have been targeted in order to get back at Mgr Jia Zhiguo, Zhengding’s underground bishop, who has spent many years in prison.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Wuqiu village near Jinzhou (Hebei), Catholic nuns have taken in tens of disabled children abandoned in the streets by their parents and have taken care of them for years. But they are short of money, even for nappies; and many children have to perch over buckets set into specially made wooden or metal chairs to relieve themselves. Some of them are paralysed, forced to lie on beds covered with plastic sheets, unable to express their discomfort except by groaning. Visitors are rare. But hope still lives on in this small community as does caring for one’s fellow man.

The story all began in 1985 when a small group of underground Catholics settled in the village. Local priests found a first paralysed baby abandoned on their church's doorstep in May 1987. About two weeks later, they found a three-year-old paralysed, deaf girl and two months later a two-year-old deformed, blind boy. An orphanage was eventually built that same year for them, but the lack of funds and specialised medical staff has made treatment hard to provide. Over the past 20 years 26 children have not made it and died.

The nuns who run the place and work as the children’s caretakers receive no salary or holidays. Altogether 35 people work in shifts, cleaning the stools, cooking and feeding, removing and washing blankets and linen and treating the sick with very basic medical supplies.

But the local government wants to shut down the place and expel its residents, going as far as threatening to fine the orphanage 2,000 yuan for every abandoned child it takes in. matters got worse when local authorities increased their pressure on the orphanage after it expanded about a decade ago.

Officials have stopped visitors, blocked donations and prevented priests and nuns from contacting others. Recently they even installed a surveillance camera at the orphanage’s entrance.

The authorities have also taken to summoning the nuns to the police station for interrogation, whilst volunteers who tried to visit the orphanage or bring donations to help the children had their cars detained and were fined.

They [the authorities] said we had violated the birth control policies by keeping these children,” said Sister Li Yongqian, the nun in charge of the place. But “they were abandoned outside our door,” she explained. “We had to take them in.”

For some the unusual level of surveillance put on the orphanage might be part of a strategy targeting the underground bishop of Zhengding diocese, Jia Zhiguo, 73, who has spent 15 years in prison since 1980 for his faithfulness to the Pope, and who was arrested again last October and has been detained in an unknown place ever since.

Sister Li said if that was the case, innocent children were paying the price. “A rich Buddhist tried to donate a truck of food and other necessities, but the truck was stopped by local police, and we never receive the donations,” she said. “The donation by the Buddhist had nothing to do with religion, but they still stopped it.”

The nuns have always tried to find someone to adopt the children and 56 children with less serious defects, such as cleft palates, have been placed in families over the past two decades. But the one child policy makes it very difficult for anyone who wants to accept children with serious handicap. Many public officials simply view these children as a useless burden.

But for a young nun named Cao that is no reason to abandon them. Even though she realised she would never see any visible improvement in the children, she still chose to work at the home and has been doing so for the past ten years.

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