While most children spend their childhood in school and enjoy their youth with their peers, a survey by the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF) found that as many as 98.7 percent of children in economically disadvantaged families have to shoulder up to two household chores every day, and most of them feel physically and mentally under pressure.
Unlike other children her age, a nine-year-old girl nicknamed Chun-chun (均均) babysits her two younger sisters and is caregiver for her father, who is a diabetic and has heart and kidney diseases.
When Chun-chun’s father is hospitalized — which occurs frequently — she also needs to shoulder all the housekeeping, including cooking and doing laundry.
“At first, it was difficult for me to do all these things, but now I am used to it. I feel that it’s my obligation and it’s all routine to me now,” Chun Chun told a news conference organized by the fund in Taipei yesterday.
A girl with a similar story is 11-year-old Hsiu-hsiu (秀秀), whose father passed away several years ago and who now lives with her sick mother, a younger brother and a younger sister.
“My mother was in a car accident earlier this year and had to stay in hospital for a long time,” Hsiu-hsiu said. “During that time, I had to bathe her and carry her upstairs on my back, and I continue to take care of most household chores even after my mother has recovered.”
Hsiu-hsiu has to look after her brother and sister when they do their homework, while at night and over weekends, she works on simple at-home manufacturing for her mother.
The cases of Chun-chun and Hsiu-hsiu are not isolated ones — as many as 11,390 children under the TFCF’s assistance program live their lives taking care of their family members, the group’s executive director Ho Su-chun (何素春) said.
“It’s very heartbreaking to hear these stories — children should live happily and enjoy their childhood, instead of having to shoulder such heavy burdens,” Ho said. “I urge the public and the government to pay more attention to the issue and lend a helping hand.”
Paul Shiao (蕭琮琦), director of the TFCF’s Department of Social Works, said that according to a survey by the organization of 632 children in economically disadvantaged families, 98.7 percent of the respondents have to perform two or more household chores that are usually performed by adults.
“As they grow older, the burden only gets heavier, because their parents expect even more from them,” Shiao said. “This is why as many as 48 percent of the respondents said they were constantly physically tired, while 37 percent said they feel mentally under pressure.”
Shiao said most children in economically challenged families have to work before and after school, and on holidays. Sometimes they have to take days off school during emergencies at home.
“Although most of these children take family obligations as part of their lives, our survey also found that most of them simply accepted their situations because there’s nothing else they can do,” Shiao said.
“This is certainly an issue that deserves more attention,” he added.