China's rising healthcare costs feeds new baby abandonment hatches

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Chinese baby hatch
A medical worker stands inside a baby hatch (safety island) facility in Xian, Shaanzi Province, China that provides a place for parents to legally abandon their children in China. While it is controversial, this option is considered much safer for children who might otherwise be abandoned on the street. Recently a baby hatch in the southern metropolis region of Guangzhou has had to discontinue taking any new babies or children because of over crowding. Image: Xinhua

(WNN) Guangzhou, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, EASTERN ASIA: The nation of China is still reeling under a system that has loosened limitations, but continues to prohibit more than one child per family. Except for parents who themselves grew up as ‘an only child’, or parents who’s first child was female, the one-child policy in China must still be followed. After decades of pushing for a preference with boy children, China’s population has now begun to show a lop-sided gender ratio, with many more boys than girls. A recent option to manage unwanted babies in China also appears to be faltering on the back of rising healthcare costs for those who cannot afford it.

In hopes of slowing the number of abandoned children and infants left to face injury or death in the streets of some of China’s largest cities, Chinese Social Services in separate locations have worked to create what is called baby ‘hatches’, known in China’s Mandarin language as ‘safety islands’, for babies and children. These welfare centers began to be opened in the northern region of China in 2011 to enable parents to abandon their children in an environment that gives children much more safety than an abandoned child left outside. The baby hatches do include some limited rudimentary medical equipment, like a baby bed and an incubator, as well as a temperature-controlled room.

But are these ‘safe’ facilities actually encouraging more families in China to give up their children, especially girl children? Ongoing discussions in the region show diverse opinions from both sides of the fence on the issue. Chinese adoption centers have had a history of filling their facilities with girl children who are often undervalued, unwanted and shunned because of their gender.

In late 2013 more of the Chinese welfare baby hatch centers for abandoned infants and children opened, specifically in the southern region of China. But the number of parents abandoning children in welfare centers has now begun to outstretch one baby hatch’s ability to keep up.

A new welfare facility for unwanted, severely disabled and/or ill babies in the large urban 8.5 million populated city of Guangzhou, has just closed its doors for business. The center is now closed to any more new drop-offs of babies or children. This is due to many more abandoned children being dropped off by parents than the center can handle.

In the past six weeks the Guangzhou baby hatch has reported to have received more than 260 infants and children who have been abandoned by their parents. These abandoned children include infants as young as a few days old to children who have reached up to the age of 5. Many of them are considered caste-aways in China as they suffer from incurable diseases or disabilities.

Surprisingly the current number of boy children in this center is higher than girl children, at 138 boys to 114 girls.

The fully legal drop-offs of children in baby hatches allow parents to walk into a facility room, abandon their baby, and then ring a bell to notify staff before leaving, so they can stay anonymous.

While most of the parents prefer to remain anonymous, the reasons for the abandonment of infants and children at welfare centers can be numerous. But a majority of the reasons parents share, according to Xinhua news agency, is that the families cannot afford to pay rising medical costs for a baby or child with a serious illness or disability.

As of 1998 China’s government healthcare system does not adequately cover healthcare costs for children who have disabilities and/or serious illnesses, especially for those whose incomes are limited. Currently the average government insurance plans for healthcare covers at most 42 percent of medical costs. Coverage for incurable conditions and/or disability is even worse, causing families without adequate funds to give up their children to the State.

According to the Guangzhou Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau, the baby hatch in Guangzhou currently houses 1,121 baby infants and young children.

Today baby hatches can be found around the world in numerous countries including Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Malaysia, and others. A majority of the children who are abandoned are put up for adoption or foster care after a certain amount of allotted time has passed.

Currently the United States does not have any baby hatches per se, but does have something called the Safe Haven Laws that permits a mother to abandon her infant at designated locations, which in some states does include fire stations and hospitals. This drop-off of a baby can also often be made anonymously without facing penalties. These children are most often considered to be legally abandoned into Social Services and the public adoption system in the U.S. once they are given over voluntarily to designated authorities.

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