Closed hatches

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-20 22:08:01

The baby hatch in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province is boarded up after being closed down on Sunday. Photo: IC

"My daughter would only face death if she lived with me," cried a father on the street of Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province.

Kneeling, the father wept in front of the cordoned-off baby hatch of Guangzhou City Welfare Center, where he planned to abandon his daughter on Monday.

"This is her only hope to survive," the father was quoted as saying by the Nanfang Daily.

The anonymous man, whose daughter suffers from cleft palate and deformed legs, was not alone in seeing the baby hatch established in January as his only resort.

Within the past two months, a total of 262 babies have been abandoned at the baby hatch of Guangzhou, all of whom either have disabilities or are severely sill.

Xu Jiu, director of the center, said that there were 110 cases of cerebral palsy, 39  of Down's syndrome, and 32 of congenital heart disease.

The increasing numbers of babies abandoned finally overwhelmed the welfare center and it announced the decision to suspend its baby hatch program on Sunday without giving a reopen date.

The scheme has already caused public controversy after it was first introduced in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province in 2011 when people worried whether the safe haven would facilitate the abandonment of children. As the spotlight is cast upon the controversial baby hatches, critical flaws in the nation's welfare system have also been exposed.

Overwhelmed centers

"I totally understand the halt in Guangzhou. The baby hatch program is a huge pressure on all of us," said an employee surnamed Tang with the Xi'an Welfare Children Institution.

Like Guangzhou, the capital city Xi'an of Shaanxi Province has seen a sudden rise in numbers of abandoned babies since it launched its baby hatch in November 2013. By February 17, the institution had received more than 60 babies and the number may have reached 100 by now, Tang said.

"Babies are abandoned almost every day. Once we got three at once." 

She vowed that the institution would not be shut down or halted like Guangzhou. But this comes with a price: caretakers must work longer and do more jobs, while the resources for the babies would be strained.

"The beds are all taken. Usually one or two babies share a bed, but there are now occasions when three or even four of them have to sleep together in the same bed," Tang said, adding that some children even take the floor.

The shortage of rooms, facilities and staff has also stressed the welfare center of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, whose hatch has collected 136 abandoned babies within 88 days. Normally the center takes in 160 abandoned children over a year, local media reported.

Meanwhile, the financial burden adds to the pain of welfare centers, as the annual budget was allocated in the beginning of this year. "We can't just ask for more money because we have more babies to take care of," Tang noted.

Capitals attract parents

China has established 25 baby hatches in 10 provincial regions so far and more are expected to be set up. The hope is to provide a safe space for children who would otherwise still be abandoned while the law still punished the crime of abandon infants.

While employees keep working on the spin in some regions, a staff member with the Shijiazhuang welfare center told the Global Times that everything is in order and there has been no shortage of beds. The center had accepted over 200 babies so far, a Shenzhen-based TV channel reported on Tuesday.

The baby hatch located in Wulanchabu, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region only received four abandoned babies in the last 10 months, reported the Yangcheng Evening News.

The same lack of stress could also be seen at the welfare institution of Nanping, Fujian Province, which established its baby hatch in December 2013, according to a local volunteer.

"Xi'an may be the most-developed city in Northwest China and people travel all the way [from the countryside] to leave their babies at our door. Even if baby hatches were set up in every city, the provincial capital would still be crowded because parents hope for the best for their abandoned babies and the provincial capitals are believed to enjoy better living conditions," Tang explained.

Chen Lan, founder of the Home of Little Hope, a Shanghai-based non-profit child abuse prevention organization, said that welfare centers in big cities would understandably become overcrowded as baby abandonment is more likely to happen among the migrant population.

"Migrant workers from rural areas give up their unhealthy babies as some local traditions see those babies as bringing bad luck. Moreover, young migrant workers with inadequate education could also abuse babies or even commit infanticide," Chen said.

Helping hands on standby

Several volunteers working at welfare centers reached by the Global Times expressed their helplessness in the face of those unwanted babies suffering from diseases or disabilities. In spite of their enthusiasm, they could only help change diapers and offer milk powders or keep some babies company.

The lack of professional skills and manpower is a grave problem, according to Tong Xiaojun, vice director of the China Social Work Research Center at the China Youth University for Political Sciences in Beijing.

"The baby hatch halt in Guangzhou has reflected the lack of capacity in dealing with the arrival of a massive number of babies," Tong said, suggesting that authorities should establish an emergency mechanism under which services from NGOs can be purchased to support government-funded welfare institutions.

Chen echoed Tong's suggestion, calling for relaxed controls on adoption, which sets high requirements for perspective parents.

Authorities could also work to match up families in need with the integrated resources of NGOs or foundations. The Home of Little Hope has recently prevented a baby abandonment case by offering financial support to a couple having difficulties in getting medical help for their baby, according to Chen.

Experts noted that the limited knowledge of available aid has added to the high number of cases of abandonment that stems from inadequate support from medical insurance and the social welfare system.

"No one would give up their baby unless there was no alternative. You can never stop parents from abandoning their children, but government must shoulder its ultimate responsibility in protecting its citizens," Chen noted.

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