Fangfang was just a few days old when she was abandoned on a
near freezing New Year's Day in north China.
She was relatively lucky. Unlike the many who are found
dumped in train stations or toilets, her family left her at a safe, warm
'Dropping off' unwanted offspring
Dozens of babies have been secretly dropped off at
"baby safety islands," or "baby hatches," set up since late
last year under a scheme aimed at protecting unwanted offspring. "We need
to build these islands to protect children from further injury," said
Zhang Min, head of a government-run orphanage in the northern coastal city of
Tianjin where Fangfang was found. The babies there are dropped off in a cozy
room with pink walls, a cradle and an incubator.
Fangfang was left in
a handbag on the floor. Chinese media frequently report harrowing tales of
babies being abandoned, a problem attributed to young mothers unaware they are
pregnant, the birth of an unwanted girl in a society which puts greater value
on boys or China's strict family planning rules.
moms-to-be for mental illness
In one such case, a baby was found in a dumpster on the
outskirts of Beijing. He didn't survive. In another, firemen in eastern China
rescued an abandoned newborn boy from a sewage pipe.
Preference for male heirs
Chinese orphanages have seen a falling number of abandoned
children since 2005, but officials estimate some 10 000 unwanted children are
still received each year. An unknown number of abandoned babies are also
Once orphanages in China were overwhelmingly filled with
girls due to the cultural preference for male heirs and three decades of a
strict one-child policy - if couples were allowed only one child, many wanted
to make sure it was a boy.
The preference still exists, but it is much less prevalent
as the world's second-largest economy grows and the country becomes more
wealthy. So the abandoned children tend to be of both genders – and they are
usually seriously sick or disabled.
Fangfang, the first baby abandoned at the Tianjin hatch,
outside the gate of a city orphanage, has Down's
syndrome and congenital
Government officials say baby hatches are needed because of
the illnesses and disabilities, often in need of immediate medical attention.
Each province has to set up a minimum of two by the end of the year. "With
more and more disabled children, it could mean they die if we find them 10
minutes late," said Ji Gang, an official with the China Centre for
Children's Welfare and Adoption.Child abandonment exists
Baby hatches have sparked concern among some they may
encourage more parents to abandon babies. Some were busy when they opened,
under the media spotlight, but the numbers soon dropped off, welfare officials
"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."Welfare
experts and officials note that China has various charity funds and government
health insurance schemes to help the sick and disabled.
But they also note that China suffers from a lack of a
unified welfare system. "If there were such a system, a lot of parents
wouldn't abandon their children," said Ji, of the welfare and adoption centre.
"We wouldn't have to build so many baby hatches."
(Picture: Baby room from Shutterstock)