More education to prevent baby abandonment
Published: Oct 31, 2013 06:03 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The Global Times reported on Thursday that a 22-year-old single mother admitted to abandoning her newborn baby son but denied an early confession she had given prosecutors before the trial that she strangled the infant in Minhang District People's Court in Shanghai.

The woman was arrested in January after she was sent to a hospital by ambulance in Minhang district. She told doctors that she thought the baby was dead after she gave birth and she abandoned him in the bathroom at her residence.

But an autopsy report by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau's center of forensic sciences showed that bruises covered a large area around the infant's neck and mouth. The report also ruled out negligence and the possibility that the infant was strangled by his umbilical cord, according to a press release by the court. The court has not yet announced its verdict.

According to Chinese criminal law, if a person has the ability to raise a baby but chooses to abandon it, they can be charged with abandonment. If the abandonment leads to death, the person responsible can be charged with intentional homicide.

The woman told the court she was unable to raise the baby and that her boyfriend broke up with her after her pregnancy and she was afraid to tell her family she was pregnant.

The country has witnessed a number of baby abandonment cases recently. In Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, a junior high school student tossed her newborn baby from the bathroom window of her residence on the third floor of a building in July. The baby was run over by a car and pronounced dead on the scene. In Shanghai's Songjiang district in June, a young woman threw her newborn from her 12th-floor apartment. Similar cases were also reported in the provinces of Zhejiang and Hebei.

According to an article in the Journal of Forensic Medicine in 2012, police officials at the Shanghai Public Security Bureau's Institute of Forensic Science analyzed 27 deaths of abandoned babies from 2006 to 2011 in Shanghai. They found that fatalities have been on the rise in recent years. Roadsides, hospitals, public toilets and even open areas have all been the sites of abandoned newborns. Most of the mothers are unmarried, young, either away from their hometown or not living with parents. Their families were unaware of their physical changes and they were afraid to tell others about their pregnancy. The main cause of death was mechanical asphyxia.

Whenever such cases are reported in the media, we always hear unanimous blame and condemnation of the mothers and sometimes their family members if they live together. But we have to realize that collective head shaking and court verdicts are not enough to solve the issue. Joint efforts from families, communities, schools, professional institutes and government agencies are needed to prevent similar cases from happening again.

Family, especially mothers, play an important role in teaching girls knowledge of self-protection as far as unwanted pregnancy is concerned.

However, not every daughter has a mother to teach her the facts of life, especially considering the number of migrant workers who live separately from their children for most of the year.

Schools must also bear the responsibility of teaching boys and girls the necessary knowledge about reproduction, contraception and what to do if an unwanted pregnancy occurs.

But because of the deep-rooted traditional condemnation of pregnancy out of wedlock in China, it's still considered taboo for people to talk about and a great shame for the girl in question. Young women unsurprisingly choose to hide the truth to avoid the severe social stigma and potential punishment from strict family members. But if there are hotlines and organizations they can turn to, they can ask for help anonymously. Thus the community and specialized agencies can play a role in supporting troubled young women and prevent future tragedy. These services should be widely publicized so that girls are aware of how to reach them if they are in need and also to encourage greater public awareness that falling pregnant outside of marriage is neither uncommon nor shameful.

In cases when an unwanted and unexpected baby is born, and the mother decides not to raise it, there should be designated organizations that the baby can be sent to, as is the practice in many Western countries. In fact there are such organizations in China, but in reality, it seems that there is still a long way to go for the general public to get access to relevant information.

Finally, the public should be educated on the relevant laws. We have quite a complete legal system but many citizens are still illiterate as far as the law is concerned. Most women are unaware that they can be held legally responsible when they abandon their own child.

It's easily said that life should be cherished. We still have much to do for all people in our society to know how to cherish a life even if it's unwelcomed by the parents.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.