China expands abandoned baby hatch scheme

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Tianjin baby hatchImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Each province has been told to set up at least two baby hatches by the end of the year

The Chinese authorities have set up 25 "baby hatches" across the country to allow parents to safely abandon their unwanted infants.

They plan to establish many more over the coming months, despite criticism that they could encourage people to give up their babies.

The hatches, which consist of an incubator and a delayed alarm, increase the chances of a baby surviving.

Most of those abandoned have disabilities or serious illnesses.

Left with note

The China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption told the state-run news agency, Xinhua, that more than two dozen baby hatches had been set up since the first one opened in the city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province in 2011.

A number have opened in the last few months. One, in Guangzhou, received 79 babies in its first 15 days.

Parents simply place a child in the hatch, press an alarm button and then leave, remaining anonymous. Someone then comes to retrieve the baby five to 10 minutes later.

Abandoning a child is illegal in China, but the health authorities believe that the hatches provide a safe environment for something that would go on anyway - and gives the infants a better chance of survival than if they were dumped in the street.

Previously, only one in three abandoned babies would survive.

"Laws emphasise prevention, while baby hatches focus on rescue after the laws are broken," the head of the welfare and adoption centre, Li Bo, told Xinhua.

China's strict family planning laws have in the past been blamed for the high number of girls given up by their parents.

Chinese families traditionally favour boys and so, if they can have only one child, some parents abandon girls and try again for a boy.

But it seems the babies left in the new hatches are both boys and girls.

Health officials said most babies left there had severe health problems and were abandoned because their parents feared they would not have enough money to pay for expensive medical treatment.

Many babies left in the hatches came with notes, cash or medical records tucked inside their clothing.

It is estimated that 10,000 children are abandoned in China each year.

To help them, the authorities say each province must set up at least two hatches by the end of the year.