Chinese Orphanages

A Follow Up

The publication of Death By Default on January 7, 1996 was followed by several weeks of intense coverage of the report by the international news media. The report found that most orphaned or abandoned children in China die within one year of their admittance to state-run orphanages and that the government does little or nothing to prevent this loss of life-despite the modest economic cost of so doing. While the report generated a response that was overwhelmingly supportive, it also provoked sharp criticism, not only from the Chinese government, which was expected, but also from some concerned groups and individuals in the West who felt that the report would harm rather than help the children in these institutions. Others differed with our perceptions of the observable conditions in China's orphanages or misunderstood the report's arguments and conclusions. The aim of both Human Rights Watch/Asia and the many people who responded to the report is clear: better treatment for Chinese children. We believe that a combination of outside pressure, public exposure of abuse, and quiet efforts by a wide range of humanitarian organizations and agencies is the best way to achieve that objective: if public pressure combined with quiet diplomacy can produce the release of hundreds of well-known detainees, as happened in China after 1989, it can lead to improvements in the orphanages as well. At the same time, we believe that quiet efforts alone, without the public attention that our report has generated, will not serve to bring about the kind of transparency in the Chinese orphanage system that will ultimately save lives. That said, we would like to make a thoughtful response to the report's critics.
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