March 18, 2014 – China has installed 25 safe havens, also known as baby hatches, for parents who wish to give up their children.
After a parent presses an alarm button demonstrating they have left a child in the safe haven, welfare staff wait for five to ten minutes to pass before retrieving the baby. This method allows parents to give up their child safely and anonymously.
While the facilities have been praised for helping save the lives of children who would otherwise be abandoned in the streets or dumped at train stations or in toilets, there have been deep concerns that the safe havens provide encouragement to parents to abandon their unwanted children – which is illegal.
Han Jinhong, head of the Shijiazhuang Social Welfare Institution stated that before safe havens existed about two thirds of abandoned babies died, but the fatality rate had fallen sharply as a result of the safe havens.
“Although we cannot change the abandonment of babies, we can change the results after they are dumped," said Han Jinhong.
Majority of children are given up because they are encumbered with a severe illness or disability such as Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or congenital heart disease and parents cannot afford the expensive medical treatment or fees for special education.
Welfare experts stated that China has various charity funds and government health insurance programs to help the sick and disabled but they also noted that if China had a unified welfare system a lot of parents would not abandon their children.
The city of Guangzhou has suspended their baby hatch program because the welfare centre cannot cope with the substantial number of arrivals - 262 children since it opened on January 28th, 2014. The influx of children has doubled the centre’s workload preventing the centre from offering every baby appropriate care. 67% of the babies were less than a year old and had varying degrees of illness. The welfare centre contains 1,000 beds and is currently sheltering 1,100 children.
Shijiazhuang, the industrial capital of the northern Hebei province, opened the country’s first baby hatch about three years ago and it has so far received 181 children.
Beijing Baby Boom!
Beijing, with a population of more than 21 million people, relaxed its rules allowing couples to have more than one child if one of the parents is a single child, and now, it is bracing for a baby boom – 54,000 new babies added to the 270,000 babies born annually.
The Maternal and Child Health Hospital with six maternity wards accepts nearly a thousand pregnant women every day for check ups and registration and last year more than 14,000 babies were born. To cope with the current patient load they have turned doctors’ meeting rooms and storehouses into maternity wards, shortened hospital stays after birth, recruited new staff and purchased more medical equipment.
Obstetrical departments in Beijing hospitals are expecting to add about 1,000 beds over the next three years which will allow them to care for an additional 70,000 new mothers each year.
To ease the serious strain on kindergartens and primary schools due to the annual increase of births, Wang Delin, Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress said, “The city government will provide support by improving hospitals, nurseries and primary schools, and by protecting women’s rights to maternity leave.”
Tianjin Municipality and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Anhui have changed their one child policy and provincial level governments in Guangxi, Hubei and Jiangsu have also announced their intentions to relax the one child per family policy this March. Hunan, Qinghai and Shanghai promised changes within the next three months.