Heartbreaking video of orphan delivery boy sheds light on child poverty
Being seven years old is normally a pretty carefree time in life; a time for playing outside, learning new things at school and making friends. One thing being seven years old is certainly not for, however, is working a full-time job.
But life doesn't always turn out the way it's supposed to. That's one thing Chinese schoolteacher Wang Qingwei learned when a seven-year-old delivered a parcel to him on a freezing cold day in January 2018. Shocked to see such a young child working, Qingwei uploaded a picture of the incident to chat app WeChat. This turned out to be the all-important move that unravelled the distressing story behind the young delivery boy.
So, how did a seven-year-old fall into this line of work? Or any line of work, for that matter? Little Li is a young boy living in eastern China, who was orphaned when his father passed away after years of rumoured alcohol abuse. Left in the care of his mother, one would hope that the young child would go on to live a better life. However, soon after his father's death, his mother remarried and lost all contact with him.
With seemingly no family in the world left to turn to, the little boy was taken in by his father's friend at the age of only three. Little Li's guardian works as a courier and reportedly began bringing the boy on his rounds after moving him from a rural area in the Shandong province. Eventually, Little Li began carrying out deliveries in the city of Qingdao alone and continued to deliver up to 35 packages a day - until the world caught wind of his story in January, that was.
When footage of the young child at work was posted on the Pear Video website, the story instantly went viral and was viewed over 18 million times. The country was blindsided by the sheer tragedy of the tale and immediately there were demands for him to be given a better life. The director of a local children's charity later confirmed to China Daily that Little Li was now staying in a welfare with them and will receive support in accessing education. Situation solved, right?
But, this story isn't just about one little boy who got dealt a bad hand in life. Little Li is only one of the millions of youngsters who have been left behind to fend for themselves by their parents. Although exact numbers are currently unknown, the best current estimates suggest that more than 60 million children are growing up in the Chinese countryside while their parents live and work elsewhere.
So, why are these mothers and fathers dumping their kids? Well, while it appears Little Li was the victim of a neglectful and cruel mother, many of China's deserted children have another culprit to blame, an evil that many people across the world are woefully well acquainted with: poverty.
While it's true that an industrial revolution, along with four decades of strong economic growth, has helped China become the world's second-largest economy, unfortunately, this influx of money has not affected everyone's lives positively; in fact, it has left 43 million people still living on less than 2,300 yuan ($350) per year.
In recent years, President Xi Jinping has vowed to pursue a war on this destitution, promising to lift 70 million people out of poverty by 2020, an ambitious yet ultimately insignificant goal, when you consider that roughly a billion of the country's 1.379 billion population are said to be living in poverty.
His government has pledged to move 100 million rural residents into the cities by 2020, claiming that living in a city brings a higher standard of living to families. However, given the fact that in the cities parents will work long hours, many children are left behind in the countryside and end up only seeing their parents a few times a year.
Over the years, Chinese news has been plagued with reports of youngsters driven to despair after their parents moved away. Zhang Yangyu, from Taihu, Anhui province, was only 12 when he hanged himself due to the fact that his parents had moved to the city for better jobs in 2008. More recently, in 2014, nine-year-old Li Xiaolin, from Wangjiang, Anhui province, reportedly hanged himself because his mother, who was working in a city, would not come home for Spring Festival.
Despite 16 being the minimum age for employment in China and child labour being forbidden, it's a sad reality that children like Little Li are often forced to forgo education and go into employment to support themselves and their far-away families; according to the China Labour Bulletin, in 2000, there were approximately 11,575,000 children at work between the ages of 10 to 14 in China and 18 years later, the numbers have only gone upwards.
Tragically, it's been speculated that the President's war on poverty could actually hinder, rather than help those who have moved away from their children. China's major cities have officially capped their populations, meaning that rural residents are being sent to complexes on the outskirts of second- and third-tier cities such as Liaocheng, Zhengzhou, and Ankang. These cities often have limited access to basic services like health care and education due to a severe shortage of medical staff and teachers in less developed regions, as well as a lack of jobs for the rural newbies, who lack experience in anything outside of farming.
In addition, families are unable to grow food in the cities, meaning that the money they do make is squandered, while their homelands are sold to wealthy developers by the government, with little compensation sent their way.
Recently, the government issued a new directive, reiterating existing laws against child abandonment and reminding local authorities of their duty to protect vulnerable children. In addition, authorities are conducting a nationwide census in an attempt to glean solid information on the number of orphans. However, gaining more accurate data won't do much to stop parents from abandoning their children. Instead, the government needs to focus on the root of the problem: the dreadful poverty that stretches across China.
Although the public was outraged when the story of one seven-year-old little boy went viral, we ought to be outraged about the millions of other young people who are left behind to fend for themselves. Heartbreakingly, when Little Li is asked in the video if he finds helping out with the deliveries hard, he answers "no" and grins, adding that he doesn't mind. But this is part of the problem; if he doesn't mind, no one else will mind for him.