The Guangzhou Baby Hatch Close-down

The Guangzhou Baby Hatch Close-down

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Guangzhou Baby Hatch pilot programme came to a halt in mid-March, after operating for only one and a half months; this was quite an unexpected move, as it was the only one out of the 25 baby hatches nationwide to be closed down. However, it is easy to imagine the reason and the pressure to do so, given the Baby Hatch received 262 foundlings within that short period of time.

Xu Jiu, the director of the Guangzhou Child Welfare Center, which headed the programme, pointed out that the baby hatch in the Northern Chinese city of Tianjin, during its first 50 days of operation, received 16 abandoned babies, and another one in Nanjing received 25 babies. Xu went on to say that the Baby Hatch programme has increased the need to speed up the establishment of a sound social security system for children, and to set up a supporting system for children suffering from serious diseases and severe disabilities, as well as for their families. Following the suspension of the Baby Hatch, the Welfare Center would focus more on the caring, treatment, transferring and adoption of the foundlings, he said. However, as of early June, the Guangzhou Child Welfare Center has received another 30 abandoned infants.

The Guangzhou Center also cares for orphans; it has 1,000 beds, yet it houses 1,121 babies and young people, with another 1,274 in the care of foster families, the Guangzhou’s Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau said in March.

Who should be responsible for these abandoned babies? It is mother Lin Xin’s great concern, as well as thousands of other parents’. The temporary shutdown of the Baby Hatch does not mean the end of the baby abandoning problem, on the contrary, it is a reflection of the lack of social welfare protection in our country. How do we prevent parents from abandoning sick infants? How do we keep parents from losing hope? Perhaps, what we need is more than just a baby hatch.

In 2011, Han Qunfeng – a mother herself – drowned her twin sons with cerebral palsy in the bathtub due to the overwhelming burden. Han repented of her act in court, saying: “Whatever punishment, I will accept. I regret my behaviour and if I could go back in time, I would never do such a stupid thing.” On the day of the trial, many parents with “special children” came from various places across China to plea for clemency for Han. Lin Xin was one of the mothers: “I think we need to give some support to Han, because she did not get any support. She had two children, I have only one, yet it is already very hard for me. No one helped her at that time. When there was no hope, there was a desperate mom”, she said.

Now, three years later, similar tragedies are still repeating themselves. Behind each of the 262 babies left at the Center was a tormented and broken family. For many of them, leaving the child at the Baby Hatch was the last thing to do, perhaps the only thing to do.

“We received a total of 262 abandoned babies since we started this programme on 28 January this year. The abandoned babies we received all suffer from varying degrees of diseases and disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and congenital heart disease”, Xu said. He also pointed out that the survival rates for these babies abandoned at the Baby Hatch reached 91%, in contrast to the 85% rate at ordinary child welfare homes.

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs has since last July begun to promote baby hatch pilot programmes across the country. As of today, 10 provinces (including Hebei, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu and Fujian) have set up 25 baby hatches, with some more provinces actively preparing to set up new baby hatches or foundling observation and treatment centres.

During the “Two Sessions” this year, Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo expressed in an interview that the good of establishing baby hatches outweighs the harm, saying: “the establishment of baby hatches will cause an increase in the number of foundlings in the short term, but when taking into account the interests of the abandoned infants, as long as they receive timely treatment, it is meaningful to do so.” However, he admitted that solving the problem of foundlings fundamentally relies on a better social security system. “In order to root out the problem and to reduce the number of infants abandoned by their parents, we need to strengthen the construction of the social security system, prenatal and postnatal care services, and health insurance and serious illness medical relief work.”

Normally, if a family has a baby with a seriously disability, people would expect the state to provide some help. Yet in China, “not abandoned, not cared for” seems to be a harsh reality faced by many families, which has exposed major deficiencies in the child welfare system. Wang Zhenyao, President of the Institute of Public Welfare at Beijing Normal University, pointed out that “there is no such social security system in China, therefore a family with seriously sick children is entirely on its own. Under the current medical system, reimbursement is very unlikely.”

On the one hand, the Civil Affairs Ministry set up baby hatches out of humanitarian concern, in order to protect infants from harm; but, on the other hand, many social workers call for the care of these children to be carried out by their own families. Guangzhou Municipal CPPCC member Zhu Jingjun said: “sending their children to baby hatches is not the only option, nor the best option. A child with parents at home can grow up best. Under such conditions, with support from government policies and social resources, these children will do better in curing and growing. This is the best choice for the children and their families.”

Hence, distributing more funds to such families is very important. Wang Zhenyao also suggested that “a great amount of money should be spent within families, otherwise society and the government will have to spend more. People now only see the baby hatches, but have they thought about the larger amount of work and resources the government will put into caring for the hundreds and thousands of these infants when they grow up? And yet, this is going to be less effective than letting families take care of these kids.”

Guangzhou Municipal CPPCC member Zhu Jingjun believes that the closure of the Baby Hatch is a temporary measure. “People needed to stop and start to think about what to do next”, he said, “whether it is in the whole country or in Guangzhou, it is useful to study such a phenomenon. As for the social support for children, especially infants, I think we should slow down and begin to study the problem in terms of systems, policies and resources […], so that we can better solve this issue.”

Indeed, the ethical collision and the overwhelming number of foundlings left at the relatively small Baby Hatch are disturbing, and the unprecedented pressure thrust upon the Welfare Center rattled decision-makers. Furthermore, Guangzhou, as a major city, has attracted a large migrant population and a growing need for medical resources. As a result, the Baby Hatch received far more foundlings than expected, which undoubtedly contributed to the temporary shutdown of the programme.

Although Guangzhou has halted its Baby Hatch programme, this will not necessarily decrease the number of foundlings. The Government needs to beef up measures to protect the interests of abandoned babies. Both legally and morally, no controversy can play down the respect for life. A practical measure to protect the interests of these babies would be to optimise resources across the province – especially the Pearl River Delta region – and establish more Baby Hatches to reduce the pressure on the city of Guangzhou. In addition, most of the abandoned infants are seriously disabled or ill, and, although their parents may have difficulties and think they have no other choice, abandoning infants still constitutes a moral and legal violation in China.

It is imperative to give social welfare support to poor families with seriously sick children. By the end of June, China will initiate a nationwide pilot insurance programme for urban and rural residents with serious illnesses. Guangzhou is expected to fully implement this programme next year.

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