GUANGZHOU, China— A “baby hatch” for abandoned children recently shut down because it could not provide for the hundreds of babies it received. The hatch, intended to be a safe place for parents to leave unwanted children, received 262 babies since January 28th, 2014. According to Xinhua news, parents left 33 babies at the Guangzhou hatch within the first 10 days it was open.
The baby hatch program began in 2011 in an effort to minimize fatal infant abandonment. Each hatch features an incubator for the babies and an alarm button that summons staff. Five to 10 minutes after the button is pressed, a person comes to retrieve the child. This delayed alarm allows parents to abandon their children anonymously.
The first baby hatch opened in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province and there are now 25 hatches operating in 10 Chinese provinces. While the hatches have existed since 2011, Guangzhou’s hatch was the first to temporarily shut down. Guangzhou received more babies than any other province, Xinhua reported.
Typically, abandoned babies are female. However, this time there were more boys retrieved from the Guangzhou hatch than girls. All of the babies have one thing in common: they each suffer from sickness or disability. Out of the 262 babies, 110 have cerebral palsy, 39 have Down’s syndrome, and 32 have congenital heart disease.
Each child is now receiving care at the Guangzhou City Welfare Center where the hatch is located. The center also cares for orphaned children. According to BBC, it now houses 1,121 babies and children in its 1,000 bed facility.
"We are temporarily closing the centre so that we can properly care for the infants already at the centre." Xu Jiu, the center’s director, said. Zhuang Yeuqun, Guangzhou City Civil Affairs Bureau chief, added that they “are also considering transferring some babies to other welfare centers in other cities of Guangdong,”
The hatches have generated controversy since their debut. While some argue that the hatches save babies who might otherwise die, others maintain that the hatches encourage parents to abandon unwanted children.
Nankai University professor Guan Xinping sees the hatches as a way to alleviate an inevitable problem. "Abandoning babies is undoubtedly in violation of the law and morals,” he said, “but the fact is the behavior cannot be fully eliminated, and abandoning babies secretly will certainly do more harm…As we cannot eliminate babies being abandoned, we try to minimize the harm."
According to Chinese welfare officials, survival rates have increased for abandoned babies because of the hatches. It is illegal in China to keep an abandoned child, so delivering a baby to a safe facility could be the best alternative.
However, Shang Xiaoyuan, a Beijing Normal University professor takes the opposite view. "I believe no one, from civil affair ministries to welfare institutions, would like to see an increasing number of babies abandoned.” Shang stated, “Although their original intention is one of good, the existence of baby hatches may be a signal to parents that they are being given a silent nod to abandon their children,"
While China’s Law on Protection of Minors forbids child abandonment, around 10,000 babies are still abandoned each year. Numbers show that the baby hatches have not increased the number of abandonments. However, infant abandonment has become part of normal life in China.
“Child abandonment exists.” social welfare expert Wang Zhenyao said, “Baby hatches won't encourage more parents to abandon children, they will only provide more accurate numbers."
Han Jinhong head of the Guangzhou Social Welfare Institution, defended baby hatches as a way to save lives, but he also implied that abandonment is a permanent problem. "Although we cannot change the abandonment of babies, we can change the results after they are dumped," Han said.
What drives parents to abandon their babies? One common reason is that parents prefer to have boys and will abandon baby girls if they do not want them. However, in recent years the common thread among abandoned babies has been their health rather than their gender. According to the CCCWA, 99% of babies delivered to the hatches suffer from medical issues.
Many blame the high cost of medical care for the increase in abandonment of sickly babies. A Xinhua article elaborated on this:
“Some of the babies were covered in medical tubing, and some had hospital records tucked in their clothes indicating their severe illnesses or disabilities, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.” they said, “Most of the parents left brief notes or cash along with the infants indicating that they had no choice but to abandon their children.”
China’s weak child welfare system has also been blamed for the high numbers in infant abandonment. Tong Lihua, head of a Beijing legal aid and study center for adolescents insisted that protecting and caring for children it is not only a parent’s job, but that society and the state must also take responsibility. "If there were such a [unified welfare] system, a lot of parents wouldn't abandon their children,” Ji Gang, China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption official said, “We wouldn't have to build so many baby hatches.”
Sick children should be a concern to society rather than a burden. Yet, every year thousands of precious babies receive neglect instead of help. Chinese officials need to realize that a system that causes parents to abandon their children is not acceptable and will hurt the country in many ways. Even if China builds more baby hatches, they cannot provide lifelong support for the infants. Where will the children go when they get older?
It is tempting to fall into hopelessness about this problem. Even Chinese officials view it as a permanent issue. However, as followers of Jesus, we are called to abide in a living hope and fix our eyes not on what is seen (the temporary troubles of the world), but on what is unseen: the eternal victory of God (1 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:18). The future is uncertain for these children, but God does have a plan and a future for each of them. Psalm 68:5 identifies God as a “father to the fatherless”—a father to China’s abandoned children.
Perhaps the Chinese government needs to take further responsibility for these children and their families, but the church should also be on the front lines of this issue. Our greatest weapon is prayer. As we pray for the love of God to restore these families and heal their children, we can also pray for improvement in the social systems in which they live. Only Jesus can rebuild these broken systems, but the good news is that he can.
by Emilie, All Girls Allowed
Pray for China! Read updated prayer requests and testimonies here.
All Girls Allowed (http://www.allgirlsallowed.org) was founded in 2010 with a mission to display the love of Jesus by restoring life, value and dignity to girls and mothers in China and revealing the injustice of the One-Child Policy. “In Jesus’ Name, Simply Love Her.”
IMAGE: China Photos / Getty Images, from TIME Magazine
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