By Li Qian | 2013-1-9 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
SIX government officials have been suspended from their posts while authorities investigate a fire in an unlicensed orphanage that claimed seven lives in central China's Henan Province.
Officials in Lankao County confirmed yesterday that a child playing with fire triggered the inferno from the living room on the first floor of the privately run shelter for orphans and abandoned infants on January 4.
The six officials punished include Yang Peimin, director of the Lankao County Civil Affairs Bureau, Li Meijiao, the bureau's deputy Party chief, and Zhang Jianyi, director of Chengguan town, where the shelter is located, the People's Daily reported.
Last Friday's blaze engulfed the rundown house that served as a foster home for 18 abandoned children. Seven youngsters and a 20-year-old man were at home unattended when the fire broke out while the others were being taken to school.
Six children, aged between seven months and five years, and the man, who suffered from polio, were killed in the fire, but a 10-year-old boy survived. He suffered severe respiratory damage and burns to his head, arms and legs, and was in a critical condition, the People's Daily website said. The 10 children who were not at the house when the fire broke out are now in the care of the welfare department in nearby Kaifeng City.
The orphanage was run by Yuan Lihai, who had "adopted" more than 100 abandoned children over the past 27 years. Most of them had congenital conditions, such as cleft palates or polio, and some had mental health issues.
Yuan, 48, hadn't gone through formal adoption procedures and did not have a license to run an orphanage.
Some media reports suggested that the local civil affairs bureau turned a blind eye because the county was too poor to build a welfare center, and even local police and hospitals are said to have regarded her home as the county's only baby shelter.
However, local civil affairs officials said Yuan and the children had refused to be separated when she was asked to send them to government rescue shelters in 2011.
"The local government takes full responsibility on this issue because of poor and lax regulations," Wu Changsheng, deputy county head of Lankao, said at a press conference, according to the Xinhua news agency.
In an interview with the Beijing Times, Yuan said she wouldn't adopt any children in the future.
Yuan is currently in hospital recovering from a heart attack on Sunday. She is said to have a heart disorder and diabetes.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs urged departments across the country to improve management of such orphanages.
A ministry statement said civil affairs departments should send officials and mobilize communities and villages to collect information on non-government orphanages.
If they do not meet requirements, the children should be sent to child welfare agencies, the statement said.
If qualified, the government would sign contracts with them and put them under supervision.