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An orphanage in Siping, in China's Jilin province
An orphanage in Siping, in China's Jilin province
Zeng Ying

-Opinion-

BEIJING — After trying it out for less than two months, China’s southeast city of Guangzhou has announced it will suspend the “safe baby hatch” program, which provided a secure place to leave abandoned babies to increase their chance for survival.

Since Guangzhou’s Children’s Social Welfare Home launched the arrangement earlier this year, 262 babies had been anonymously dropped off, an overwhelming number that exceeded both expectations and the orphanage’s capacity.

Of the 262 babies abandoned in the hatches, 148 of them were boys and 114 girls, with 67% of the abandoned infants under a year old. Most were found to be suffering from varying degrees of illness or disease.

This sad news undoubtedly provides concrete and appalling evidence for those who worried that such a measure, as one critic put it, “will encourage even more people to abandon their children.”

It must first be said that the number of abandoned infants is indeed disturbing — five to six per day. We must ask ourselves what has gone wrong with our society? But this development is also a blow to those looking to improve China’s inherently weak child protection agencies. The Guangzhou authorities had emphasized that the baby hatch measure was a “pilot” concept so as to justify the expense of what it dubbed an “experiment.” Indeed, one of the main selling points for the local government was the ability to “suspend the baby hatch without a precise timetable for reopening.”

Its closure is disappointing for those who’d supported the measure as an “institutional umbilical cord.” Indeed, just one week ago at the National People’s Congress, China’s Minister of Civil Affairs reaffirmed the government’s commitment to “undertaking a courageous reform attempt in child welfare work.”

Acknowledged reality

Guangzhou’s 8.5 million people and its massive number of migrant workers have abandoned an astounding number of infants, though it’s hard to judge whether this economically booming southern city represents a general condition across China.

Nonetheless, it’s certain that the 262 babies abandoned in the hatch hatch did not just suddenly appear because a baby hatch was created. These infants were already around. They were simply not taken in and cared for. That’s the only difference.

We must acknowledge that there are also at least 262 desperate families, alone in their silent grief. It’s hard to imagine what might have happened to the children if the hatch hadn’t existed.

What was dubbed “the baby safety island” allowed 91% of the abandoned babies to survive. The hard work of the people at the Guangzhou orphanage should be acknowledged and praised.

This is precisely why it is such a great disappointment to suspend the program. There is now the risk that it will dampen other cities’ willingness to provide such shelter for their poor and unwanted children.

We look forward to the day when there is no need for baby hatches, when China’s child welfare and security system evolves into something much sounder. The state must find a way to provide for the families of severely ill and disabled children so that the act of abandoning a child may be virtually eliminated, including improving the awareness of prenatal and postnatal care, premarital and prenatal examinations, and so on.

We cannot accept that a shelter for abandoned babies is now slated to be ambiguously “suspended temporarily,” while in fact the local authorities are just hastily retreating from their public duty.

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