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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2001

Officials end boy's fund raising

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Columnist

Rochan Pinho, a 10-year-old cancer victim, was halfway to his goal of raising $10,000 for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Ten-year-old Rochan Pinho had raised thousands of dollars for September 11th victims by selling God Bless America buttons at malls.

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Then his parents got a visit from Child Protective Services investigators.

"I couldn't believe it," Rochan's father, Michael, said yesterday. "Someone reported us for trying to exploit our son."

Rochan, a Pearl Highlands Elementary School student with inoperable brain and spinal cancer, has spent much of the last month selling God Bless America buttons to help terror victims. Despite his own problems, Rochan spends much of his spare time in malls from Pearl City to Ala Moana collecting money for those less fortunate than himself.

The fund raising has been nothing but good for Rochan, his father said. "Even his doctor said he's never seen him look so well," Pinho said. "He's like a completely different person when he's doing this."

Pinho said he's never left his son alone during the fund raising. He sits or stands nearby and watches him closely. Sometimes, he'll cut short the effort and order his son home to rest. "There's no way I'd do anything to hurt him," Pinho said. "I'd give him the world. I'd give him my own life."

Still, someone was worried enough about Rochan to file a complaint. The anonymous caller reported that Rochan appeared neglected during his fund raising at the Pearl City Shopping Center. A police officer checked it out and relayed the complaint to the Child Protective Services branch of the state Human Services Department. The next day investigators showed up at Rochan's home with what Michael Pinho says was a "very confrontational" attitude.

"We have to do our job," said Amy Tsark, administrator of the department's Child Welfare Services branch, who can't talk about specific cases. An investigation includes a visit to the family, school and any other relevant sources, such as a child's doctor. Ultimately the office has the power to take a child from his or her parents.

"Our job is to put everything into context, to look out for the child," Tsark said. A determination is made within 60 days, she said.

In the meantime, Michael Pinho was left with the clear impression that Rochan's fund-raising efforts had to be curtailed. "They were very blunt about it. They clearly told us to stop," he said.

Rochan is crushed — and "that's not the half of it." He spent the night after the CPS visit depressed, crying and not wanting to eat.

"His emotions just took a dive," Pinho said. "What they did — it's killing him."

Pinho understands that whoever complained probably was genuinely concerned about Rochan's welfare; he knows that CPS has to investigate.

But he's still hurt and angry.

"Rochan was so full of life while he was doing this," he said. "Now ... what a total reversal. When you've got a sick child you go through all sorts of emotion, but this is like the bottom of the barrel."

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleideman@honoluluadvertiser.com