A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog
Sad news this week as a baby hatch in the southern city of Guangzhou was forced to close as staff were overwhelmed by the numbers of anonymously-abandoned babies.
Although abandoning children is illegal in China, such hatches – where babies can be left in controlled, safe environments and picked up by welfare workers – have been set up across the country: a total of 25 so far, according to official figures. More are planned, including for the capital, Beijing.
Many families in China are unable to face expensive health care costs for sick infants. When coupled with the social stigma attached to certain disabilities, abandonment can sometimes seem the only option. All of the children left in the Guangzhou hatch showed early signs of illnesses or disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and congenital heart problems. Tragically, around nine percent did not survive.
There has been some criticism in China that perhaps baby hatches have encouraged the abandonment of children by making parents feel more secure in their decision. Many localities, however, lack skills and specialist care facilities, leading parents to make the journey to larger urban centres that might have better care, but also the accompanying higher costs. It is suspected that cases of infanticide persist in some rural areas of China where deep-rooted superstition exists alongside a lack of education and professional support.
The baby hatches are an imperfect solution to a harrowing problem. Proposed alternatives include a special health care subsidy for the parents of children with certain conditions, or even free medical care for these groups. It is not clear, however, how these measures could be made to reach all of the affected families.
The problem is not unique to China, or, indeed, modern times: the baby hatch idea has spread from Central Europe around the world over the past decade, including the ‘Babyklappe’ in Germany. Such sanctuaries were also features of some towns in the Middle Ages. Their effectiveness – and morality – in dealing with the very modern social problems of China and beyond will be a topic of controversy for years to come.
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