A care centre director in southern China, where 21 people including a 15-year-old autistic boy died over winter, is now in police custody, local media reported Thursday, amid public outrage.

An expose this week by the state-run Beijing News found a total of at least 21 people at the centre for the homeless, elderly and mentally ill had recently died.

Lianxi care agency in Shaoguan, Guangdong. Photo: Weibo.

A local government investigation found conditions at the Lianxi care agency in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, did not meet national safety standards, Yangcheng Evening News said Thursday.

The report did not mention the name of the centre director, and said an investor, a legal representative and two care centre staff have also been detained.

Accounts of crowded, unsanitary conditions at the facility have triggered widespread outrage in the country, with people pouring scorn on the government’s treatment of vulnerable populations.

“Was it murder? Did the [centre] pocket government subsidies instead of spending money on the patients?” a commenter on the Twitter-like Weibo asked.

Shaoguan. Photo: Googlemaps.

The centre was privately run, but financed by the local government, according to China Daily.

Lei Wenfeng, the autistic teenager, had wandered away from home and got lost, then died in December after staying at the centre for just over a month.

Lei’s cause of death has not been disclosed. Family members blame authorities for not doing enough to locate his parents.

News reports quoted Lei’s father as saying that his son would have been able to say his own name and the name of his parents, but police still turned the teenager over to centre staff.

Online commenters also questioned if officials were doing enough to help China’s missing children.

Tens of thousands of children, most of them boys, are believed to be stolen each year in China.

Most are sold within the country to meet demand fuelled by a one-child limit, traditional preference for sons, virtual immunity for families who buy them and, as some parents have complained, apathetic police.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs on Tuesday ordered nationwide inspections of care facilities provided by the government or outsourced to the private sector.


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