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China's infant rejection: Abandonment rising on infant girls, sick and disabled

Staff work inside a baby hatch in Nanjing, Jiangsu province in December 2013.

For an infant girl born in China or for a baby that is born with physical deformities or severe health problems, a disquieting trend is rising – officials estimate some 10,000 unwanted children are anonymously dropped off at baby “safe havens” each year, but countless thousands more are abandoned and left to die.

According to a Feb. 2 Reuters report, infants like “Fangfang,” who was left at what China calls “baby safety islands,” was fortunate. Many baby girls and infants born in less than perfect health are discarded, left to die at train stations, sewers and toilets.

“We need to build these islands to protect children from further injury,” says Zhang Min, head of a government-run orphanage in the northern coastal city of Tianjin. Fangfang was left there in a handbag on the floor.

In China, strict rules on family sizes place paramount importance on having a boy, the preferred gender in a largely patriarchal society. For that reason, more females are forsaken than males, as well as infants that are sick and disabled.

After three decades of a strict one-child policy, which at one point affected couples in over one-third of the country, China’s family planning policy has seen some of the regulations relax. In November 2013, the Chinese government said families where one of the parents is an only child could have two children.

Nevertheless, a relaxing of the rules has not equated into a drop in the abandonment rates.

Ji Gang, an official with the China Centre for Children's Welfare and Adoption, said that he has seen a sharp increase in deserted babies with disabilities.

“With more and more disabled children, it could mean they die if we find them 10 minutes late,” Gang said.

Baby hatches in China have sparked concern among some who say they only encourage more parents to abandon their infants. But officials who man these shelters and care for the infants before they are adopted or turned over to the foster system say that they are saving lives.

“Child abandonment exists. Baby hatches won't encourage more parents to abandon children,” said Wang Zhenyao, a social welfare expert. “They will only provide more accurate numbers.”

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