China looks at Dutch youth policies
As the only European minister, André Rouvoet was a conspicuous guest at a regional conference for sexual health in Beijing last week.
The Dutch youth and family minister spoke before an audience of Asian family planning experts, abortion activists and gynaecologists. He was invited because China is looking to the Dutch youth policies for inspiration.
Jia Yug gets a couple of coins for carrying packages at the bus station. That will buy him noodles with tomato sauce. "It tastes much better than what I get at home, because grandma is too ill to cook." His partially demented grandmother is the only family the 12-year-old boy has. "So I almost never used to go home. The teachers at school didn't miss me either. They said they didn't care whether or not I turned up to school." The next logical step was to join other runaways in a park.
Jia Yun is a Chinese street kid. His bravado is still endearing, but it won't be long before a boy like him gets on the wrong path. Although he will probably be alright, now that volunteers have brought him to the Guangai home for runaways.
"There is only one thing that is important to us: that is to give them a home and an education, so that they stay out of prison. Every child we take in is one less criminal later," says the home’s deputy manager Wang Xianlong. He does this without government subsidies; the whole project is run on 100 percent charity. Minister André Rouvoet is visibly impressed:
"I think very good work is being done with very little means. And I take my hat off to the project.”
He has just had lunch with students and visited an international school, but the Guangai project has given him an insight into the severe problems faced by Deputy Minister of the Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhao Baige.
1.5 million runaways
The 105 neglected children in the project are just the top of the iceberg; China is believed to have more than 1.5 million runaways, not to mention child labour, child trafficking, a high abortion rate among teenagers, and high divorce rates. And there is no government assistance for young people; projects like Guangai are set up by charitable private individuals.
"Our system does not have social services or youth welfare work. We have only just added women’s and children’s rights to our human rights charter. It is a start, but now we are looking for suitable policies,"
says Zhao Baige. That's why the Chinese have invited the Dutch youth and family minister, not because of Mr Rouvoet’s personal achievements, but because the Netherlands has a good track record in the area of youth work.
"They are interested in insights which can be included in their own policies and approach. Not just policies geared to helping children with problems, but also ones which improve child-rearing, education and training. They want to take a broader view of youth problems than they are used to traditionally. For instance by looking into how to involve the family or network in resolving problems."
The minister has implicitly criticised China’s strict family policies, by saying parents in the Netherlands have the freedom to choose how many children they have and how they want to bring up their children.
From poverty to wealth
China is changing from a country of poverty to one of wealth. It used to be inward looking, but the country has now turned its attention to international issues. It has transformed from being a backward plan economy to a market economy. And all these changes have gone so swiftly that nobody pays attention to a little girl like Cai Huihui and her mother, who has psychiatric problems. Mother and daughter roamed the streets for many years, eating from rubbish bins and sleeping under bridges. Cai Huihui used to hate that life. "When I slept on the streets at night, I was always afraid of bad people."
Volunteers took her off the streets. She can often be found in the project's vegetable garden. "I like looking at the little cabbage plants." Cai Huihui is recovering, laughs Wang.
In recent years, more and more council officials from outside Beijing have come to him with children like Cai Huihui. They want him to build Guangai schools in other provinces.
"First we have to make sure we can take in more children here. Beijing’s city council has given us a piece of land to build a new school. Hopefully then I will be able to take in more children, because at the moment I have to turn away the less serious cases."
All photos © Marije Vlaskamp/RNW