Monday, 17 March 2014

Plan B Overwhelmed

A baby hatch in Xi'an where parents can leave their child safely
It's sad to read that a Guangzhou child welfare centre that set up a "baby hatch" for parents to leave abandoned babies has had to close temporarily because it is overwhelmed with so many children.

The baby hatch, where parents can leave their child, knowing they will be safe, has collected 262 babies since the program started on January 28, according to Xu Jiu, the director of the centre.

He told a press conference on Sunday that the centre usually has around 1,000 beds filled, mostly with orphans whose parents had died, but now the total was 1,121 because of the high number of babies abandoned. There are already 1,274 cared for by foster families.

Xu said resources were tight and didn't know when the baby hatch would be open again. He added that parents should not leave infants in the baby hatch now because surveillance footage would be given to the police.

All of the abandoned babies have illnesses, such as cerebral palsy (42 percent), Down's syndrome (15 percent) and congenital heart disease (12 percent). Nine percent of the total babies died. It is believed the babies were abandoned because the families may not have the resources to afford the medical care.

An abandoned child plays with a caregiver in Xi'an
Abandoning babies in China is illegal, but the baby hatch program started to prevent infants from being left in dangerous conditions, like on the street. The parents enter the room, leave the child there and press a button which gives them a few minutes to leave without anonymously and escape prosecution.

There are 25 baby hatches in 10 provinces and major cities, but there was a lot of controversy when they began because some critics felt it encouraged parents to abandon children.

However, the vast majority of the cases are children with illnesses that average families would not be able to cope with physically or financially without government assistance.

Ye Fen, the director of social welfare in the civil affairs bureau in Guangzhou said the city would provide financial aid to poor families with sick newborns to reduce the number of abandoned children.

Meanwhile the government is also considering giving free medical treatment to young children born with a disease. That would greatly help families, but again, they need more than just free medical treatment because there are physical demands of looking after children who need constant care.

It's admirable to see China have these baby hatches that were pioneered in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province over two years ago. Parents would never abandon a child if it was one that was planned for. But when they don't have the resources to even begin to look after the baby properly, it shows there's something wrong with the system.

Hopefully the baby hatches will be reopened but also a more comprehensive medical plan in place for these children to live productive lives and also help the parents focus on providing for the family.

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