Online charity for needy children in China under investigation

The programme, "We Share a Birthday" was launched by 0fenbei.com (above), a poverty alleviation website based in Beijing, and Shenzhen-based Aiyou Future Foundation.
The programme, "We Share a Birthday" was launched by 0fenbei.com (above), a poverty alleviation website based in Beijing, and Shenzhen-based Aiyou Future Foundation.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WWW.0FENBEI.COM

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Chinese authorities are investigating an online charity programme for children living in poverty.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Tuesday (Dec 26) that the programme is suspected of violating clauses in the Charity Law over the way it released information.

The programme, "We Share a Birthday", began appearing on WeChat last Friday. It was launched by 0fenbei.com, a poverty alleviation website based in Beijing, and Shenzhen-based Aiyou Future Foundation.

It matches donors with poor children born on the donor's birthday, with most people contributing 1 yuan (S$0.20) to the child with whom they were matched.

The programme attracted widespread attention from netizens and had raised more than 2.55 million yuan (S$522,114) when the organisers put an end to the programme on Sunday morning. They promised that the money would be used as tuition fees for 2,130 children living in poverty.

However, some netizens soon found that the photographs of some youngsters on the programme's website had appeared in multiple profiles, resulting in the suspicion that the programme was a scam.

The ministry said it would strengthen supervision of online charities and make the complaint system smoother.

In response to netizens' suspicions, the Civil Affairs Bureau in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, said on Sunday afternoon that it would start an investigation into the programme and would make any findings public in a timely manner.

On Monday, the bureau said its officials had spoken with the secretary-general of the Aiyou Future Foundation, requesting it to stop the programme and hand over detailed documents about it, including reports on each donation received.

Mr Wang Li, founder and chief executive of 0fenbei.com, blamed the mix-up on human error.

The charity programme was supposed to be launched on Sunday, he said, but staff members had mistakenly shared a trial version last Friday that did not contain information of all the children.

The programme's database should contain the information and photos of 366 children from Yunnan province, Mr Wang said. All the children are indeed living in poverty, and their parents agreed that the charity programme could use their pictures, he added.

When the company began receiving complaints, it realised its mistake, Mr Wang said.