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Moms Wanted
Cover Stories Series 2012> Moms Wanted
UPDATED: May 28, 2012 NO. 22 MAY 31, 2012
Seeking SOS Mothers
Marriage ban and low pay turn prospective mothers away from foster care communities
By Wang Hairong

DEVOTED MOTHER: Zhang Yuxiao with her children in the SOS Children's Village in Yantai City, east China's Shandong Province (IC)

A group of independent houses in a beautiful compound stands out from regular apartment buildings in Huangcun Town, Daxing District in Beijing's southern suburb. Rather than villas housing the rich, these buildings are home to orphans and needy children in the SOS Children's Village in Beijing.

Currently, 36 children live in the village. In each house lives a family, including a "mother" and her children.

SOS mothers usually cook meals, do chores such as washing clothes and cleaning rooms, accompany children to classes outside the facility and buy clothing and other supplies for children.

Officially launched in July 2009, the village in Beijing is the 10th such facility in China.

Ever since the village was built, Jin Linde, the village head, has been busy recruiting mothers and assistants, a task that has so far proved to be challenging.

Marriage ban

In the beginning, Jin did not foresee any difficulty in recruiting mothers. After the first vacancy was posted, hundreds of resumes streamed in.

"We wanted to recruit 21 mothers, and there were hundreds of applicants to select from, so I thought there should not be any problem," Jin said.

But it turned out that many avid applicants did not really understand the job requirements, Jin said.

The village's recruitment advertisement posted online specified that a mother should be single, or divorced/widowed without her own children, and be between 25 and 35 years old. She should believe in the cause of SOS Children's Village; have at least finished high-school education, and know how to educate children and run a home; abide by relevant rules; be healthy and free of contagious diseases; and be virtuous, good-tempered, outgoing, hardworking and thrifty, respect the elderly and love children.

Jin said that the village expects a mother to bring up at least a generation of children in the village, which takes at least 15 years assuming a child enters the facility at 3 years old.

"Many applicants did not know that after accepting the job, they cannot marry and have their own children. Once they learned this requirement, most gave up," Jin said.

The remaining applicants were required to go through several procedures, such as face-to-face interviews, written examinations, a psychological test and background check. Few candidates eventually made it through the screening process.

"After the vacancy was advertised for the first time, we were able to recruit three mothers; the second time, nine mothers; the third time, one mother; the fourth time, no mother; and the fifth and the sixth advertisement brought four mothers into the village," Jin said.

The average age of the first 10 mothers recruited was 31, they all have at least a college education, and half of them were born in Beijing.

But in less than a year's time, six mothers quit the job. The village had to recruit mothers again.

"Many of the recruited mothers found living with the children interesting at the beginning, but after a while, some got bored and chose to leave," Jin said.

Some mothers left because they wanted to get married. On May 1, a mother got married and left the job.

Mother Song Zhihong lives with four children in the village, including a girl in junior middle school and three younger boys.

Song was born in Beijing and used to be an office worker. When she was recruited in 2010, she was 36 and single. Song said that her parents strongly objected to her working as an SOS mother in the beginning, due largely to the marriage ban.

Personally, Jin believes the marriage ban should be lifted, and the age limit should be relaxed to include women in their 40s and 50s.

"The SOS Children's Village International's rule does not fit well with China's society. In China, people value family life very much, and young people are under family pressure to get married," he said.

But the no-marriage rule set 60 years ago is part of the SOS Children's Village International's tradition, and the tradition enables the international charitable organization to attract donations and sustain its cause for long term.

"If we break the core tradition, whether the organization can continue to thrive is a question," said Li Jinguo, Chairman of the China Association for SOS Children's Village, a quasi-government non-profit organization under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Low-paid mothers

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