Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Treat abandoned kids with kid gloves

By Cesar Chelala (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-21 08:00

News of an abandoned children center (known as "baby hatch") in Guangzhou city being temporarily closed down because its staff couldn't take care of the large number of babies dropped there has raised public concerns. According to Xu Jiu, director of one of Guangzhou's welfare centers, 262 babies had been handed over to the center since it opened on Jan 28.

The government has opened about 25 baby hatches in 10 provinces across the country since 2011. Baby hatches are places where people (usually mothers) can bring their children, usually newborn, and leave them anonymously to be cared for. These centers have been in existence in one form or another for centuries. The first of its kind, called "foundling wheels", was opened in Italy in 1198. They were called foundling wheels because a mother had to place her child in a cylinder, turn it around so that it moved inside a church and then ring a bell to alert caretakers to the presence of the child.

Foundling wheels functioned until the late 19th century, when modern baby shelters came into being. The middle of the last century saw the emergence of the baby hatch (called "baby box" in the Czech Republic and "window of life" in Poland). In its modern form it is used in many countries such as Germany and Pakistan which have about 100 and 300 baby hatches.

In the past, babies were abandoned mainly because they were born out of wedlock. Today, mothers drop their children at baby hatches either because they are born out of wedlock or because the parents are too poor to pay for their medical treatment or their upbringing. In India and Pakistan, baby hatches are used to prevent female infanticide.

Some experts believe that the number of such places, officially known as "baby safety islands" in China, will increase dramatically in the future. Today, almost the same number of girls and boys are left in these places. The opening of such centers has provoked concern, because many people believe that they will encourage more parents to abandon their children, a notion disputed by people such as Yi Fuxian, a population expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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