There were no government sponsored baby hatches at the time that Vivian and Shumin, the two main characters in our documentary, were born in China in the mid 1990s. Vivian was found abandoned as a newborn in front of a hospital while Shumin was given away at 4 months to a family in another town through a mutual friend.
But now China has embraced a new possibility for babies that parents can no longer keep: baby hatches. Equipped with an incubator, an alarm that sounds upon exiting, and a baby bed, parents can anonymously abandon a baby in these rooms knowing that they will be taken care of: welfare staff pick up the baby 10-15 minutes after the alarm sounds.
Baby hatches aren’t a new idea. This kind of arrangement was common in the middle ages and in the 19th century in Europe. Largely forgotten for the past two centuries, hatches have been reintroduced over the past fifteen years in several regions worldwide. The reasons for their use vary from country to country, but nowhere has the process been as quickly embraced by a national government as China. First introduced in 2011, there are currently 32 in use according to the Xinhua News Agency, more than in any other nation except perhaps Poland and Pakistan, where similar services are being run by private or charitable organizations.
China’s need for the baby hatches stems in large part from its One Child Policy. Although the policy has been slightly enlarged in recent years, the majority of families can still only have a maximum of one child. With the strong desire for healthy baby boys, some families feel compelled to give away a physically or mentally disabled child to save the place for a healthy boy or second choice, a healthy girl. In other cases, high medical costs for a child with an incurable disease or a costly curable ailment are the deciding factor. CNN reports the vast majority of children being received at China’s baby hatches come with a range of disabilities and medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, down syndrome, congenital heart disease, club feet and cleft lips.
And what was at first an anonymous practise for parents is now no longer so accessible; the anonymous element of the hatches is starting to erode. Because of the overwhelming number of parents leaving disabled children- as many as 5 a day in some cities – police are now patrolling the hatches and allowing only locals to leave babies who must be under a year old. Parents who have travelled from faraway cities or with older disabled toddlers are being turned away.
The decision to leave a baby, or in some cases, an older child, is never easy. Our documentary clearly outlines the pain a parent giving away a child feels, along with the joy such a child might bring a new adoptive family. And while baby hatches may be a step in the right direction of boosting the survival rate of physically or mentally disabled children, an improved social welfare system for struggling parents would likely greatly decrease the need for these hatches.
Below are links to written and video news stories with more information and personal stories from the baby hatches:
See an NBC news story on China’s baby hatches
See a recent CNN news story on China’s baby hatches:
And another CNN story on a baby hatch overwhelmed: