No more tears

Updated: 2011-03-04 10:31

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily European Weekly)

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Belgian sets up award-winning group that cares for children of prisoners

Belgian Koen Sevenants is a beacon of hope for Chinese children of convicts, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have his moments of dark despair, he says. Since 1999, the 39-year-old has been running the nonprofit Morning Tears, which assists children whose parents have been incarcerated. These children do not qualify for government assistance in China, because they technically are not orphans.

No more tears

Koen Sevenants and children from a Morning Tears care center.
China has about 300,000 children of prisoners who do not have
caretakers. Provided to china Daily

In more than half of the cases, a mother killed an abusive father - often in front of the children. Police have little choice but to leave the youngsters alone at the crime scenes. And in most cases, nobody will take in the traumatized children because of the stigma attached to them.

"It is a group of children that very easily eats up all your emotional energy," Sevenants says.

"The story and pain of a single kid is enough to give you sleepless nights. Initially, none of us were prepared for the storm of emotions that was about to invade us. And the storm became stronger over the years."

The Ministry of Justice estimates more than 600,000 children of convicts in China.

About 300,000 of these are without caretakers, leaving them few options but to join the ranks of the country's 100,000 "street children", who beg and steal to survive, according to Ministry of Civil Affairs figures.

A few years after taking over a care center for children of convicts - previously operated by local judges, who had run out of money - in rural Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Sevenants felt too overwhelmed to continue.

He decided to stop personally running the center and instead provide financial support.

"We did find the finances, and we did drop out. That went well for about three weeks," he recalls.

"Then, we realized the emotional support we give the kids is actually as important as the financial aid."

He decided to take a year of unpaid leave from his post as head of Handicap International's China branch - it ended up being more than two years - to focus on expanding the organization.

The organization has since grown to employ 32 staff members and more than 100 volunteers, who assist two centers and five smaller projects in China that help more than 400 children.

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