BEIJING, Feb. 16 -- Just two weeks after the first baby hatch was established in the south China city of Guangzhou in late January, nearly 80 abandoned infants had been collected from the safe place.
A baby hatch allows a parent to safely and anonymously abandon an infant and consists of an incubator, a delayed alarm device, an air conditioner and a baby bed. A person can place the baby in the hatch, press the alarm button, and leave. Welfare staff retrieve the baby five to 10 minutes later.
The Guangzhou case sparked public discussion, and more baby hatches are set to be established in China. However, experts say simply saving abandoned infants is not enough, and a better system is needed to protect the rights of children with illnesses and disabilities.
MORE BABY HATCHES DESPITE CONTROVERSY
A total of 25 baby hatches have been established in 10 provincial regions in China, and more will be set up in another 18 regions, the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) told Xinhua.
The first baby hatch in China was set up in June 2011 in Shijiazhuang, capital city of north China's Hebei Province.
Many have endorsed baby hatches, hailing them as a sign of social progress and a way to help save the lives of abandoned babies. However, others believe baby hatches encourage people to abandon their unwanted children, which is prohibited by Chinese law.
Li Bo, head of the CCCWA, said people should view baby hatches rationally. Their purpose is to protect abandoned babies and conforms to laws safeguarding abandoned infants' right to life by prohibiting the dumping of unwanted children.
"Laws emphasize prevention, while baby hatches focus on rescue after the laws are broken," added Li.
Li said there are no data showing baby hatches trigger an increase in abandoned babies. The Shijiazhuang social welfare institution received 105 infants in 2009 and 83 in 2010. Since the baby hatch was set up in June 2011, it has received 181 abandoned children.
In addition, the survival rate of abandoned babies increases with baby hatches. Taking the baby hatch in Shijiazhuang as an example, Han Jinhong, head of the city's social welfare institution, said only one-third of abandoned babies survived before, but now the death rate has fallen sharply with the help of the baby hatch.
"Although we cannot change the abandonment of babies, we can change the results after they are dumped," added Han.
DEFICIENT WELFARE FOR CHILDREN
Experts say the situation reveals deficient children's welfare in the country, as most abandoned infants have severe or difficult-to-treat diseases.
Xu Jiu, head of the Guangzhou Social Welfare Institution, said that 79 babies were received in the first 15 days after a baby hatch was set up in the city on Jan. 28, most of them younger than one year old.
Some of the babies were covered in medical tubing, and some had hospital records tucked in their clothes indicating their severe illnesses or disabilities, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Most of the parents left brief notes or cash along with the infants indicating that they had no choice but to abandon their children.
According to Ji Gang, another staff member of the CCCWA, 99 percent of babies left at hatches have illnesses or disabilities. Their parents are afraid of becoming impoverished as they cannot afford expensive medical bills and fees for special education.
"It shows the lack of welfare for children," said Ji Gang, who added that the government should take into consideration the comprehensive welfare of children with physical or intellectual disabilities, including medical treatment, care and rehabilitation.
Only with a sustainable system and governmental assistance can the government address parents' concerns and reduce the number of abandoned children, Ji said.
IMPROVED WELFARE SYSTEM NEEDED
Baby hatches provide basic protection for abandoned infants, but they are only the first step in caring for abandoned babies given the incomplete system for children's welfare, said Tong Lihua, head of a Beijing legal aid and study center for adolescents.
"We need a comprehensive system to better protect them," Tong said.
Tong added that children are not only the responsibility of the parents but also of society and the state, so the government should help parents in protecting and raising children.
Li Bo said a medical insurance system for children with major illnesses should be established, while related systems to help children with major illnesses and disabilities should be improved.
In the meantime, Li called for strengthened guidance and checks during pregnancy so as to lower the birth defect rate.
Tong said China should study other countries' laws on protecting children's rights and build its own system to protect minors while taking into account China's realities.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs is now studying a welfare system to support families of children with illness or disabilities. The system would subsidize those families and reduce their taxes in order to prevent them from abandoning their children.