A harrowing article and video by China correspondent Lucy Watson on the ITV News website today tells the story of parents who are abandoning their sick and disabled children in ‘baby hatches’ that have been set up all over the country.
These hatches are there to assist parents to abandon their babies in a safe place, rather than on the street. Soon after a baby is dropped off at a baby hatch, a nurse from a nearby orphanage will pick the baby up and take it back to the orphanage, to be cared for at the expense of the state.
According to UNICEF, there are 700,000 orphaned or abandoned children in China, 90% of which are sick or disabled.
The reason that these babies are being abandoned are heartbreaking. Parents of a child with a severe illness or disability simply cannot afford to provide their child with the care that they need. While the government may provide some assistance with surgery, parents must contribute, and are also expected to pay out of their own pockets for any recovery procedures, out-patient care, support for families or education.
Interviewed soon after abandoning their baby daughter, whom they had named Xiao Jin Bian, a couple explained to Lucy Watson that they felt guilty for abandoning their daughter but she had been born with Down’s syndrome as well as breathing problems. It would cost them £2,000 for her to be admitted to a special care unit and then £800 for every day that she stayed in the unit. Factory workers with limited financial resources, they felt that they had no choice but to abandon her.
Another contributing factor is China’s ‘one baby policy’. Parents of a sick or disabled child are allowed to have another baby if they surrender their baby to the state.
Although it is illegal to abandon babies in China, the government decided to open 26 baby hatches in cities across the country in 2011. These hatches allow parents to anonymously drop off a child without facing legal punishment. However, one of these hatches in Guangzhou had to be closed in March because it received 262 babies in less than three months.
While some people feel that this is a step in the right direction and an acknowledgement of a very serious problem in China, others, such as the UK based children’s charity Lumos, founded by JK Rowling and author of the ‘Harry Potter’ series of books, disagree. They believe that the investment that the Chinese government is putting into opening the baby hatches would be better spent on services that help children to remain with their families.
The founders and management of Butterfly Children’s Hospices (BCH) agree fully with this sentiment. Their hope is that at in the near future parents will not feel that they have to abandon their sick or disabled child in order for them to receive the care they need and would like to be able to expand their services to provide support to the families of these children.
“These ‘baby hatches’ referred to by some people as ‘safe havens’ for children are the reality. Every day, every hour, all over China, parents are abandoning their children at these baby hatches,” says Katie Hill, Head Nurse at BCH.
“At the Butterfly Homes in Changsha and Nanjing, we care for the very sick and dying children from the local orphanages in these cities. What these children suffer before coming to the Butterfly Home is heartbreaking; having been abandoned by their parents and families, usually because of illness, they are now left, scared and alone in the orphanage.
“In the Butterfly Home we make them comfortable, give them love and put life into every day. The vision of Butterfly Children’s Hospices is to be able to reach out and support these families, before they abandon their children, to provide support and information to them in order to keep families together.”
Next week the International Children’s edition of ehospice will be publishing an article on the innovative work of Butterfly Children’s Hospices in Changsha and Nanjing in China.