Shelters reveal flaws in child welfare

Updated: 2014-02-17 07:53


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Just two weeks after the first temporary shelter for babies was established in Guangzhou in late January, nearly 80 abandoned infants had been collected from the safe haven.

Temporary shelters for babies allows parents to safely and anonymously abandon infants and consist of an incubator, a delayed alarm device, an air conditioner and a child-size bed. A person can place the baby in the shelter, press the alarm button and leave. Welfare staff retrieve the baby five to 10 minutes later.

Shelters reveal flaws in child welfare

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The shelter in Guangzhou has sparked public discussion, with opinion split on the benefits of the system. However, experts say simply saving abandoned infants is not enough, and a better welfare system is needed to protect the rights of children with illnesses and disabilities.

More shelters planned

A total of 25 temporary shelters for babies have been established in 10 provincial regions in China, and more will be set up in another 18 regions, the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption told Xinhua.

The first shelter in China was set up in June 2011 in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province.

Many have endorsed the shelters, hailing them as a sign of social progress and a way to help save the lives of abandoned babies. However, others believe the shelters encourage people to abandon their unwanted children, something that is prohibited by Chinese law.

Li Bo, head of the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption, said people should view the shelters rationally. Their purpose is to protect abandoned babies.

"Laws emphasize prevention, while baby shelters focus on rescue after the laws are broken," Li added.

Li said there is no data showing the shelters cause an increase in abandoned babies. The Shijiazhuang social welfare institution received 105 infants in 2009 and 83 in 2010. Since the temporary shelter for babies was set up in June 2011, it has received 181 abandoned children.

In addition, the survival rate of abandoned babies increases with the shelters. Taking the shelter in Shijiazhuang as an example, Han Jinhong, head of the city's social welfare institution, said only one-third of abandoned babies survived before, but now the death rate has fallen sharply with the help of the shelter.

"Although we cannot change the abandonment of babies, we can change the results after they are dumped," Han added.

Lack of welfare

Experts say the situation reveals a deficiency in children's welfare in the country, as most abandoned infants have severe or difficult-to-treat diseases.

Xu Jiu, head of the Guangzhou Social Welfare Institution, said that 79 babies were received in the first 15 days after a shelter was set up in the city on Jan 28, most of them under 1 year old.

Some of the babies were covered in medical tubing, and some had hospital records tucked in their clothes indicating their severe illnesses or disabilities, such as Down's syndrome or cerebral palsy. Most of the parents left brief notes or cash along with the infants, indicating that they had no choice but to abandon their children.

According to Ji Gang, another staff member of China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption, 99 percent of babies left at shelters have illnesses or disabilities. Their parents are afraid of becoming impoverished as they cannot afford expensive medical bills and fees for special education.

"It shows the lack of welfare for children," said Ji, adding that the government should take into consideration the comprehensive welfare of children with physical or intellectual disabilities, including medical treatment, care and rehabilitation.

Only with a sustainable system and governmental assistance can the government address parents' concerns and reduce the number of abandoned children, Ji said.

New system needed

Temporary shelters for babies provide basic protection for abandoned infants, but they are only the first step in caring for abandoned babies given the incomplete system for children's welfare, said Tong Lihua, head of a Beijing legal aid and study center for adolescents.

"We need a comprehensive system to better protect them," Tong said.

Tong added that children are not only the responsibility of the parents but also of society and the state, so the government should help parents in protecting and raising children.

Li Bo said a medical insurance system for children with major illnesses should be established, while related systems to help children with major illnesses and disabilities should be improved.

In the meantime, Li called for strengthened guidance and checks during pregnancy so as to lower the birth defect rate.

Tong said China should study other countries' laws on protecting children's rights and build its own system to protect minors, while taking into account China's realities.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs is now studying a welfare system to support families with children who suffer from illnesses or disabilities. The system would subsidize those families and reduce their taxes to prevent them from abandoning their children.