Urumqi and another mainland city have decided to postpone plans to open “baby hatches”, or havens for abandoned children, over the lack of staff and facilities.
Children’s Welfare Centres in the Xinjiang capital as well as in Zhengzhou city in Henan province, were supposed to open next month, China National Radio reports.
But Hou Xiaoxue, director of the Zhengzhou centre, said they could not hire enough people to take care of the infants despite several months of recruiting.
It was the latest setback in the government’s initiative to expand the number of baby hatches nationwide until the end of next year, so that parents unable to care for the infants can leave them in safer hands.
The first “baby safety island” was opened successfully in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, more than two years ago. The Ministry of Civil Affairs announced the expansion project in July last year, drawing praise for saving hundreds of babies’ lives but also triggering fierce criticism for reportedly encouraging parents to abandon their children.
Abandonment, if not done with a care centre, is prosecutable by law.
So far, 25 baby hatches have been opened in 10 provinces, caring for mostly sick or disabled children.
But manpower problems and inadequate facilities have hampered the centres’ operations. Last month, a baby hatch in Guangzhou was shut temporarily – just 48 days after it opened – because the 262 infants it took in were too much for the staff to handle.
Hou, in Zhengzhou, said each worker would have to look after more than 10 babies – far beyond the national required ratio of just one or two babies for each caregiver.
She said they were near-capacity, with 800 children in the 830-bed centre - and more babies likely to come.
Zhang Dongfang, director of the welfare centre in Urumqi, said an 86 sq ft house was earmarked for the centre, but they may not meet the June opening date over “similar problems” with other centres.
An official from Nanjing’s baby hatch said many of the children were from parents living outside the city, causing problems as the facility’s funds, from the municipal government, only takes into account the needs of the local population.
Under the ministry’s plan, baby hatches provide incubators, blankets and air conditioners for the children’s care. Parents press an alarm button and leave before rescuers come to collect the babies, allowing them to remain anonymous.
Despite the difficulties, Han Jinhong, head of the Children’s Welfare Centre in the pioneering Shijiazhuang branch, believes the initiative is doing good.
“We can’t change the behaviour of dumping babies, but we can change the results from dumping [babies],” Han told China National Radio.