20 February 2019
A man prepares to abandon his child at a baby hatch in Jinan in June. Photo: Tencent News
A man prepares to abandon his child at a baby hatch in Jinan in June. Photo: Tencent News

China ‘baby islands’ fuel concern, but what is the way out?

China’s baby hatches, or ‘abandoned baby islands’, have been in the news recently, with critics blaming such facilities for encouraging parents to dump unwanted children.

Started with good intentions and aimed to show the nation’s commitment to improving child welfare, the baby hatches have been overwhelmed, forcing authorities to put in place new rules to limit the number of children being abandoned, or to even shut some places altogether.

Now, what exactly is a baby island? Well, put simply, it is a place where poor or troubled parents can leave a baby they can’t care for, for whatever reason it may be, in the hands of the state. 

If a child is seriously ill and the parents can’t afford the medical expenses, or if a kid has physical or mental disabilities which the elders can’t cope with, one can give up the child, hoping that the government would take care of them.

Authorities introduced the centers so that parents can abandon infants safely rather than leave them in the streets.

But the facilities have become so popular that they have now become a headache for officials.

Jinan opened its first baby hatch on June 1, the International Children’s Day, to show its commitment to child welfare. But when some reporters checked on the facility earlier this month, the facility was found shuttered. Local residents said the place had not been operating for a while.

Like some other cases, the Jinan baby hatch was probably overwhelmed by unwanted babies left by parents who had no money to take care of their children, as well as some who simply did not want the burden of bringing up a child.

As the center was inundated with abandoned babies and children, it couldn’t cope with the rush, leading to its eventual closure.

In the first eleven days after it opened, the Jinan baby hatch is said to have received as many as 106 children. In comparison, Guangzhou, which has the highest number of abandoned children in the country, received 100 children in a month after the city opened its hatch.

Most of the babies that were abandoned were from people living in villages and rural areas. The babies and children all have varying degrees of illness such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and congenital heart disease, according to mainland media.

Jinan tried to tighten rules, including a clause that only locals can use the facility and that the babies must be less than one year old. 

The Jinan government’s civil affairs ministry blamed the overload on irresponsible parents who just sought to take advantage of the facility and escape their burden.

China opened its first ever baby hatch three years ago in Shijiazhuang, hoping to lift its child welfare to the standard of the Western countries. But the move has sparked hot debate about whether the hatches will condone, and even encourage, child abandonment.

Some parents indeed see baby hatches as an easy pass, help them shirk their responsibilities and getting the government to take care of the kids.

But without such hatches, children could end up being thrown into trash cans, on the side of roads or in front of hospitals.

So, the centers will continue to be necessary, despite being a controversial solution. The numbers, in fact, will go up in the coming years.

China now has around 28 baby hatches across 10 provinces and cities. The ministry of civil affairs expects another 18 provinces and cities to have their own baby hatches by the end of 2015.

But we need not be surprised if, at the same time, we also see a rise in the number of the centers being closed.

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Unable to cope with an influx of abandoned children, the Jinan baby hatch has now shut its doors. Photo:

EJ Insight writer

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