Citing figures from a survey, the Children’s Welfare League Foundation yesterday called on the public to pay more attention to the challenges children face as a result of the increasing number of single-parent families and longer working hours for parents.
“We think that children should grow up without worries under the care of their parents. However, our survey found that a high percentage of children stay at home alone, while many in disadvantaged families have to work as caregivers for family members,” foundation executive director Chen Li-ju (陳麗如) said yesterday.
For one fifth-grade student, nicknamed Jing (小井), a happy childhood is not an option. Following the death of his father, Jing has lived with his mother, who is troubled by illness and makes a living collecting recyclable items and selling them to recyclers.
When Jing comes home after school, he cooks for his mother and cleans her recycling cart so she can go out to work after dinner. After she leaves home, Jing helps out with household chores, finishes his homework and goes to bed alone.
Occasionally, when his mother forgets to take her medicine to work with her, Jing must get up in the middle of the night and bring it to her.
Jing’s case is not an isolated one. Citing survey results, Chen said that as a result of the increasing number of single-parent families and the longer working hours of parents as many as 35 percent of children surveyed said they stay at home alone.
“More than 50 percent of those who have to stay home alone said that they often have to prepare their own dinner, while 28.1 percent said that they wander the streets when there is no one else at home and a little more than 30 percent said they feel that no one in their family cares about them,” Chen said.
“It’s quite worrisome what may happen to these children when they’re home alone or wandering outside by themselves,” Chen added.
As many as 25 percent of children from disadvantaged families have to act as caregivers for elderly or younger members of their family, Chen said.
“Dinner isn’t waiting for them when they return home from school, but rather chores, such as changing diapers and taking care of younger siblings, as well as feeding or showering elderly or handicapped members of the family,” Chen said. “Perhaps because of the work load at home, about 22 percent of children from disadvantaged families get sick frequently, but they often do not see a doctor to save money — this is rather alarming.”
Since the government welfare system cannot help all the children and families in need, Chen called on the public to give more support to non-governmental welfare groups, so they may be able to serve more children and families in need.