SHENZHEN officials recently announced that the opening of the city’s first baby hatch — a small facility where abandoned newborns can be safely dropped off — has been postponed indefinitely. This is unacceptable.
While it’s important for the baby hatch to have functional equipment — authorities claim the delay is to allow further testing on an intelligent bed — for there to be no set date for the opening is unreasonable. This is not the first time the baby hatch has been postponed. The baby hatch was originally proposed last June, but after claims that the hatch would encourage child abandonment, the city would not approve the plan.
Shenzhen was supposed to be home to the first baby hatch in Guangdong Province, but because of red tape and unnecessary delays here, Guangzhou opened the first baby hatch on Jan. 28. The fact that Guangzhou was able to open a baby hatch even though the city applied to do so after Shenzhen shows that Shenzhen’s delays are excessive. It is unthinkable that a modern, progressive city like Shenzhen is unable to open a facility that would protect the most vulnerable of its citizens.
I cannot help but think that opponents of the baby hatch are using flimsy excuses to prevent it from opening. But lives are at stake. Children are being abandoned every day. If the government can save those babies’ lives by providing a safe haven for them, it has a moral imperative to do so.
Of course, a baby hatch is not the only way the city could save the lives of children.
In the month after Guangzhou opened its baby hatch, more than 80 infants and children were abandoned. Surprisingly, most of them weren’t unwanted daughters or from young, irresponsible parents. Many had very serious illnesses. It is unfortunate that many families in China do not have the proper health care or support to meet the needs of seriously ill children.
I cannot imagine having to choose between giving my child food or providing her with life-saving medical care, but this is a choice many parents in China face every day. Most parents who abandon their sickly children are not monsters and are not heartless — they love their children very much. These parents have to make a decision that no parent should have to make.
Saving children’s lives is a two-step process.
First, the baby hatch must open. While Guangzhou was saving 80 newborns in a month, what happened to the children abandoned in Shenzhen?
Second, the local and national governments need to re-examine how much financial and emotional support is given to families with children with special needs. When a child’s necessary medical treatments are beyond what a family can pay, the government should help. Hospitals can teach families how to meet the needs of a sick child. Families should also receive counseling to help deal with such tremendous stress and sorrow. The goal should be to allow families to keep their sick children with them for as long as possible.
A baby hatch, while vitally necessary, should only be a last resort in the most desperate of circumstances.