Think. Discuss. Act. Global Issues

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Review: Leaving Them To Starve

Bogert, C. (1996, January 15). Leaving them to starve. Newsweek, pp. 42-43.


In America, a country of plenty, it is hard to comprehend that hunger prevails in other corners of the world. Yet, Newsweek finds that, in some Chinese orphanages today, the growling nightmare is real.

The stories are disturbing. Consider Xie Ying, a two-and-a-half-year-old admitted to Shanghai Children’s Welfare Institute in 1991. Six months later, she was confirmed dead of ‘malnutrition’ and ‘mental deficiency.’ Ke Yue, a newborn girl admitted, died two and one half years later of ‘severe malnutrition’ and ‘congenital development of the brain.’ One boy toddler befriended by an American missionary was remembered by the missionary as having ‘a crippled leg, but otherwise he was healthy.’ Chinese staff members described him as “severely retarded.” The missionary left town on business and, upon his return, found the child dead.

These stories and others similarly horrifying were recently released in a report of Human Rights Watch/Asia. The organization charges the country with “a nationwide practice of letting unwanted children die of starvation and abuse in state-run orphanages.” Staffers associated with the alleged orphanages call the report ‘sheer fabrication.’ The Chinese government, too, condemns the charges as ‘completely baseless.’

United States adoption agencies are concerned about the report as well. China is the most popular source of American foreign adoptions. Many are afraid that the Chinese might forbid further U.S. adoptions in retribution. Other Americans who had positive adoption experiences defend the Chinese orphanages.

Human Rights Watch suggests that Shanghai Children’s Welfare Institute keeps its most healthy babies at its downtown institute while siphoning its less adoptable children to its more remote site on Chongming island. Foreign adopters do not tour this site. Other orphanages are also targeted by scathing reports. One 1995 British documentary depicted “children tied to wooden toilets, sleeping in their own excrement; one subject…expired after 10 days in a ‘dying room’ in Guangdong, one of China’s richest provinces.”

China’s own statistics seem to justify the concern. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, which oversees Chinese orphanages, published one volume in one year, the death rates of children in such institutions. In 1989, the ratio of deaths to new admissions surpassed 50 percent per year. This rate is much higher than rates in the well-publicized Romanian orphanages that year. One example reflects the situation. The orphanage of Shaanxi province admitted 232 kids in 1989. Nineteen children left the orphanage; 210 died.

Most Chinese orphans are not orphaned but abandoned. Girls far exceed the numbers of boys, clearly due to China’s “one-child-per-family” rule and Chinese cultures’ ancestral preference for boys. Adoption in China is difficult, thereby compounding the numbers of children herded in orphanages. Adoption agencies worldwide hope that China will not retaliate against world and close off the possibilities for future adoptions. Every child adopted is one less starving statistic.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What can Americans do to solve this tragic epidemic? What can others do to end it?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to eliminate the violations in Chinese orphanages?
  3. What similar types of atrocities are occurring in America today? Do they command more American attention than the actrocities overseas? Why or why not?
  4. How can you make this story real for kids in your youth group? What would be your purpose for doing so?
  5. Is there anything that your youth group can do in your community to meet the needs of those who are suffering in hunger?


  1. Hunger is fundamental to survival. Without essential nutrition, one cannot function. It is a crime to allow millions of humans to wither.
  2. It is important for people to understand global injustice.
  3. Recognizing tragedy occurring elsewhere affords one the opportunity to be thankful for one’s own bounty and allows one’s heart to be broken for his or her brothers and sisters around the world.
  4. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Opening their eyes to the harsh reality of hunger may be the most valuable weapon against its perpetuation in further generations.
  5. Their is no single solution to fighting hunger. It takes the efforts of everyone with plenty to solve the tragedy of those without food.
Kathryn Q. Powers
© 2018 CYS

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