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Abandonment and 'baby hatches' in Guangzhou, China

'Baby hatches' - the symptom of a need or encouraging abandonment?
'Baby hatches' - the symptom of a need or encouraging abandonment?

Does the high number of children left at Guangzhou's 'baby hatch' programme prove the need for it, or highlight its fundamental problems?

Guangzhou, China's third largest city, has recently had to suspend its 'baby hatch' programme. The programme has been running for less than two months in Guangzhou. However, the Guardian newspaper reports that over 260 children have been left there by their parents – 67% less than one year old – which has overwhelmed the facility.

The programme allows parents to leave children with illnesses or disabilities in safe temperature controlled rooms at child care facilities around China. The staff of the facility will be alerted to the abandoned child via an alarm and will arrive in minutes, providing immediate care but allowing parents to remain anonymous. The first one opened three years ago in the northern city of Heibei, and there are currently 25 spread across the country.

The problem of abandonment

As reported by BBC news, Mr Xu Jiu, the director of the Child Welfare Centre in Guangzhou, states that the number of children left at the Centre's 'baby hatch' was overwhelming. Though the centre has 1,000 beds, it is currently having to care for 1,121 children due to the high number received through the programme. Mr Xu stresses that the staff will care for the children that have already been left, but that they would be unable to take in any more that are left in the 'baby hatch'.

Despite its illegality, abandoning children with illness or disability is sometimes seen by impoverished families as the only option, due to high costs of caring for them. The 'baby hatch' programme was set up in response to this problem and to provide care for these at risk children. The high demand for this service would seem to indicate the need for this service, but many critics think otherwise.

Facing criticism

Despite the goals of the 'baby hatch' programme, it has come under heavy criticism for actually encouraging parents to abandon their children. However, the scale of use has varied greatly between cities. For example, the Guardian newspaper reports that the first 'baby hatch' in Heibei has only taken in 181 children thus far, despite opening three years ago.

Li Bo, the head of the China Centre for Children's Welfare and Adoption, has argued that there is no evidence to link 'baby hatches' with increased abandonment. The government seems to agree, and last July it announced plans to expand the programme to another 18 provinces and big cities by the end of 2015. Despite the problems that the programme has faced in Guangzhou, 'baby hatches' are going to become far more common in the country.

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