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From foundling wheels to baby hatches: China's abandoned children

China’s baby hatches have been brought to the international community lately. Today Mail Online reported the story and yesterday CTV news Montreal ran the story as well. Baby hatches are orphanages for abandoned children. In the past the girls were abandoned in these Chinese baby hatches because of the one child policy and the cultural preferences for boys over girls. Now the times have changed and the reality is that any child who has serious health issues or is disabled is abandoned in this way. There are two dozen baby hatches which are road side rooms where parents can leave their children. There are also bigger facilities in mainland China. Mail Online reports there are 25 such facilities covering mainland China and 10 provinces.

abandoned babies
abandoned babies
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

All sources agree that it is not that the parents want to do this, they are incapable of paying for the care of these children. The medicare costs are beyond their means. The parents leave their children to the care of the baby hatch but it is not without deep sadness and remorse. They simple have no other choice.

It is illegal to abandon a child in China. The Chinese baby hatches were created to help make sure desperate Chinese parents can abandon their children safely and not on the roadside or other dangerous places. Unfortunately, these baby hatches are starting to close because they just cannot keep up with the amount of disabled babies who are left there.

Baby hatches are not unique to China and they are not a new phenomenon either. The first places to abandon babies can be found in the middle ages through the 19th century. They were called foundling wheels. These foundling wheels or orphanages for abandoned babies stopped operating in the late 19th century but surfaced again in the 1950s as baby hatches.

“The hatch is known in German-speaking countries as a Babyklappe (baby hatch or flap), Babyfenster (baby window) or Babywiege (baby cradle);[3] in Italian as Culla per la vita (life cradle); in Sicilian as la ruota (the wheel).”

The baby hatch in Canada is known as the baby cradle and was started in Vancouver, B.C. The USA does not have baby hatches per se but "safe havens", such as fire stations and hospitals were started to protect abandoned babies in accordance with the safe haven laws. Furthermore, the safe haven laws are subject to state legislation and can be different in different states.