Row Over Quake Babies' Schooling

China's government backs away from its promises to bereaved parents.

quakeanniversary305.jpg Relatives of victims mark the third anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake in Yingxiu, May 12, 2011.

Parents of children who were allowed a second child under China's draconian family planning rules following the death of their first in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake say the government has backed down on its promises of free schooling.

Local officials promised in the wake of the devastating quake three years ago that families who had lost their only child would receive free education for a second child until the age of 18, parents said on Tuesday.

"Lately we have been seeking out the government because our children are now of the age to enter kindergarten," said Sang Jun, a bereaved parent from Mianzhu county who has since had a second child.

"Now the government has started saying that it won't provide free education for them as it promised beforehand," Sang said.

He said about 20 families were affected in Fuxin township alone.

Sang's only son died in the collapse of the Fuxin No. 2 Elementary School in the May 12, 2008 quake, which left more than 87,000 people dead or missing.

Three years on, top Chinese officials have called reconstruction a success.

Parents, lawyers harassed

But parents of thousands of schoolchildren who died during the devastating quake said they were being harassed by the authorities ahead of the three-year anniversary.

The bereaved families say they want an inquiry into allegations of shoddy construction of "bean-curd" school buildings, many of which collapsed while other buildings remained standing.

Lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan's child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice.

Since the quake, parents have vowed to keep up pressure on Beijing for a full investigation into the deaths of at least 5,300 schoolchildren in the worst-hit areas.

Now, Fuxin parents are being told they will have to pay for the education of their second child.

According to Sang, the parents were planning to take their complaint to the local authorities.

"When the planting season is over, all our relatives plan to go and talk to government officials," he said.

Broken promises

A total of 129 children died in the collapse of the Fuxin No. 2 Elementary School, which parents say was constructed using substandard building materials.

A second Mianzhu parent, Pi Kaijian, confirmed the government's promises at the time of the quake.

"They're not paying our school fees now," Pi said. "To begin with, they promised us they'd pay them until the age of 18."

Repeated calls to the Fuxin township government offices, the Party committee propaganda department, and the Mianzhu municipal authorities were answered and instantly cut off during office hours on Tuesday.

Another bereaved parent, Zhang Dengjian, said the government apparently has no plans to keep its word.

"The government is making us pay fees now," Zhang said. "At the time, they said they wouldn't."

"Now, they say there was nothing in writing."

New schools built

Chinese officials say nearly 3,000 new schools and more than 1,000 hospitals in Sichuan have been built or reconstructed, at a cost of nearly 800 billion yuan (U.S. $123 billion).

More than three million homes were rebuilt in the year after the quake, while the worst-hit regions saw economic growth one percentage point higher than the rest of the province, the official Xinhua news agency reported this month.

The vice governor of Sichuan says the provincial government will allocate an additional 3 billion yuan (U.S. $461.5 million) in the next three to five years, to help over 1,200 villages eliminate poverty.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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