A controversial scheme to deal with unwanted babies proves too popular.
“Before abandoning, think carefully about your actions. Home is a child’s real safe haven.” So reads a sign on a small yellow building attached to an orphanage in Tianjin, a northern city.
It is one of dozens of facilities, called “baby havens” in Chinese, that have been allowing parents of unwanted babies to leave them anonymously in a safe place. Pilot sites opened in 2011 and by last year 25 such buildings had opened around the country.
Each baby haven has an incubator, a cot and a delayed alarm device so that staff can tend to a baby no more than ten minutes after it is left. But amid complaints from orphanages that they cannot cope with the high volume of babies, the policy is getting a second look.
At the Tianjin facility, a surly watchman says visitors are not allowed in and that the facility will close soon. Officials in the southern city of Guangzhou have already closed their baby hatch less than two months after opening it. They have been “overwhelmed” by the 262 babies left there. Most of them had severe health problems, they say.
As in other countries, it is often economic hardship that compels parents to abandon a child. But China’s one-child policy is also a factor. The policy is being relaxed, but only gradually. A sick or disabled baby is still often an unwanted burden for a family limited to one child.
Some critics say the hatches encourage abandonments that might otherwise not happen. Chen Lan, founder of a child-protection group, disagrees. She says giving up a child is an act of such desperation that parents will not do it just because a policy makes it safer.
A recent commentary at Caixin Online, a leading Chinese news website, accused officials at the Guangzhou facility of “retreating from their public duty”. The 262 abandoned infants did not just suddenly appear because a baby hatch was created, it said. “They were already around, but not cared for properly.”
Ms Chen is confident the policy will survive. She says many nations have shown that, when a society reaches a certain level, it starts taking care of vulnerable children. “China has now reached that level,” she says.
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