Debate has been sparked on whether the establishment of baby hatches is encouraging parents to abandon unwanted children, after nearly 80 children were reported to have been left in baby hatches in Guangzhou during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
Guangzhou’s first baby hatch, or so-called “abandoned baby island,” has received 51 babies between its launch on January 28 and February 10, according to Southern Metropolis News.
After the Chinese New Year holiday that runs between January 31 and February 14, that number increased to 79, Xinhua reported – 11 babies more than the total number that a Shijiazhuang baby shelter, the first of its kind on the mainland, received in its first year of operations.
The abandoned children were between one and six years old, most of who have physically or mentally disabilities, Xu Jiu, the director of Guangzhou social welfare institute, told Xinhua.
Most of the abandoned babies were boys, while nearly two-thirds of the parents had left cash or notes saying that they had no choice and hoped the children could receive better medical treatment, Xinhua reports.
The baby hatch in Guangzhou was much busier than local social welfare authorities expected, the report said. In comparison, the shelter at Tianjin received just 15 abandoned children in more than 40 days since it was opened at the beginning of this year, while the hatch at Nanjing received 26 babies in its first two weeks of opening in December.
Critics say that the baby hatches encourage mainland parents to abandon babies, which illegal in China.
It was previously reported that some parents, who had left their children in the baby hatch in Nanjing, had travelled a long way from neighbouring provinces such as Henan and Anhui.
Most babies abandoned at baby hatches are physically or mentally disabled, according to Ji Gang, an official with the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption.
Without a unified welfare system and adequate medical scheme to care for seriously disabled children, many poor parents are turning to baby hatches in hopes that the government can care for their children, the report said.
Supporters argue that the hatches may effectively save the lives of the abandoned children.
“The main reasons for establishing the ‘abandoned baby safety island’ were to prevent the babies suffering from further physical and mental damage from a negative environment, and to increase their survival rate by ensuring they get timely help and medical treatment,” Li Bo, from the same centre, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
The baby hatches, which were pioneered in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province more than two years ago, have drawn heated debate, especially after July last year when the Ministry of Civil Affairs decided to expand the project nationwide until the end of 2015.
Under the Ministry’s plan, baby hatches provide incubators, blankets, air conditioners for babies. Parents press an alarm button when bringing their child to the hatch and leave before rescuers come to collect the babies, allowing them to remain anonymous and escape possible prosecution.