BEIJING – A local Chinese government on Saturday admitted it had tolerated the existence of an illegally run orphanage where six children and one young adult died in a house fire.
The Lankao county government in central China's Henan province said Yuan Lihai, operator of the shelter, illegally took in and cared for 18 abandoned children and young adults at her home but that the government turned a blind eye to it in consideration of her "kind-hearted acts," reported People.com.cn, the official website of the party-run People's Daily.
"There is a direct relationship between today's situation and the fact that some related government departments failed to enforce supervision and loosened management on purpose," deputy county governor Wu Changsheng said at a Saturday press conference as quoted by the news report. "They should shoulder responsibility, and that's a loophole in our work."
Wu also told reporters that the local government had provided some assistance to Yuan to help her care for the children.
The deaths have spotlighted China's lack of government-run child services, which have often left to private citizens with few resources and no legal authority. It is unclear whether Yuan would be punished.
On China's social media, the public have shown overwhelming sympathy toward Yuan. A Saturday editorial by the official Xinhua News Agency blamed the local government's inaction and media -- who had previously praised Yuan's actions -- for the tragedy.
"The selective blindness of the local government and media reports prior to the tragedy has turned out to be more dangerous than the fire itself," the editorial read. "And until those with the power to rectify these issues open their eyes, similar tragedies are bound to happen."
The fire broke out at Yuan's home Friday, killing one 20-year-old man and six children aged from seven months to about five years old, the local government said in an official statement on its website.
People.com.cn said the other 10 children cared by Yuan, a street vendor, were not home at the time of the fire.
Wu told reporters that the county would spare no effort to build a welfare center in 2013 to ensure no abandoned child should be left uncared for.