A Chinese government program is in the news again this week after it was announced that it has been seeing the amount of participants increase, a trend indicative of the need for a closer look at the country’s child welfare services.
The program in question involves small booths known as “baby hatches” designed to give struggling parents the option of leaving their children in a safe environment if they are not able to care for them, as opposed to being abandoned in trash cans or in front of hospitals. Started in 2011 with the first deposit center, the program has grown to 32 across the country.
The idea behind these ‘baby hatches’ is simple: they are commonly found near government-run orphanages or child welfare centers and consist of small standalone rooms with a crib, incubator, and air conditioning. When someone places a baby inside the hatch, staff at the center are alerted and collect the babies, many of which are sick or have a wide range of disabilities.
Women of China notes Tuesday that since the program got started, about 1,400 unwanted babies have been left at the centers. The total amount of abandoned babies nationwide is much, much higher; estimates put the number at around several hundred thousand children but some suspect the real grand total could push the number into the millions.
Despite the program’s expansion, some hatches are closing due to the orphanages being full. The Guangdong Province capital city of Guangzhou, for instance, ceased accepting babies at its local facility after seeing 262 babies left there in less than two months. CBS News spotlighted a couple who tried to leave their disabled newborn daughter there, only to find it closed. The child died at only about 12 hours old and the father may face charges for abandoning a baby.
Another of these facilities recently opened on June 1, which was also International Children’s Day, in the eastern city of Jinan and has been the subject of several stories after receiving 106 babies in the first 11 days alone. In 2013, the city received 85 babies total throughout the entire year.
The orphanage that set up the hatch soon began imposing new rules in hopes of decreasing the amount of babies left there, including a ‘locals only’ rule barring people who live outside Jinan from depositing their babies there. One man from Sichuan, located about 1,000 miles away, told CNN that guards had turned him away when he tried to leave his baby, citing the new rule. A local mother was told to first take her baby to the hospital to seek free treatment and return to the baby hatch if unable to secure it.
Other new rules at this particular baby hatch include a requirement that babies left there be less than a year old and only dropped off between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Orphanage workers and guards are also now on hand 24 hours a day to keep watch over the hatch.
As for government-level answers to the increased number of children left at the hatches, the country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs has reportedly set a goal of drastically increasing the amount of social welfare workers dealing with the abandoned children from 10,000 to two million by next year. Dr. Wang Zhenyao, a retired Ministry official, also says the government should subsidize parents so they can take care of the children themselves. The state-run Xinhua News Agency, meanwhile, said the ministry is working with the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption to draft management regulations.