BABY HATCHES FOR CHINA'S UNWANTED BABIES
Child adopted by
American parents Jonathan Kaiman Wall Street Journal The Guardian: “Abandoning a baby is illegal in China yet some impoverished families, lacking the resources to cover high medical costs for a disabled or sick child, feel that they have no other option. The China Centre for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) says that China has 25 baby hatches across 10 provinces and big cities. Last July, the ministry of civil affairs announced that the scheme would expand to another 18 provinces and big cities by the end of 2015. Beijing will open its first baby hatch within the year. The country's first baby hatch opened nearly three years ago in Shijiazhuang, the industrial capital of the northern province Hebei. It has so far received 181 children. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, March 17, 2014 ]
At the baby hatches a medical team is supposed to pick up the infant within 10 minutes. Li Hui and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: Government officials say baby hatches are needed because of the illnesses and disabilities, often in need of immediate medical attention. Each province has to set up a minimum of two by the end of the year. "With more and more disabled children, it could mean they die if we find them 10 minutes late," said Ji Gang, an official with the China Centre for Children's Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA). Li Bo, the head of the CCCWA, has argued that there is no evidence linking baby hatches to a rise in the number of abandonments. "Laws emphasise prevention, while baby hatches focus on rescue after the laws are broken," he told the Xinhua news agency. [Source: Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, February 2, 2014 /]
“Baby hatches have sparked concern among some they may encourage more parents to abandon babies. Some were busy when they opened, under the media spotlight, but the numbers soon dropped off, welfare officials said. "Child abandonment exists. Baby hatches won't encourage more parents to abandon children," said Wang Zhenyao, a social welfare expert. "They will only provide more accurate numbers." Welfare experts and officials note that China has various charity funds and government health insurance schemes to help the sick and disabled. But they also note that China suffers from a lack of a unified welfare system. "If there were such a system, a lot of parents wouldn't abandon their children," said Ji, of the welfare and adoption center. "We wouldn't have to build so many baby hatches." /
Good Websites and Sources: Busy Kids chinadaily.com. ; Precious Children PBS piece pbs.org Young People ; Sheyla’s News blog /sheylawu.blogspot.com ; Human Trafficking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in China gvnet.com International Labor Organization ilo.org/public
China's Unwanted Babies: Once Mostly Girls, Now Mostly Sick, Disabled
Li Hui and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Fangfang was just a few days old when she was abandoned on a near freezing New Year's Day in north China. She was relatively lucky. Unlike the many who are found dumped in train stations or toilets, her family left her at a safe, warm shelter.Dozens of babies have been secretly dropped off at "baby safety islands", or "baby hatches", set up since late last year under a scheme aimed at protecting unwanted offspring. "We need to build these islands to protect children from further injury," Zhang Min, head of a government-run orphanage in the northern coastal city of Tianjin where Fangfang was found. The babies there are dropped off in a cozy room with pink walls, a cradle and an incubator. Fangfang was left in a handbag on the floor. [Source: Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, February 2, 2014 /]
“Chinese media frequently report harrowing tales of babies being abandoned, a problem attributed to young mothers unaware they are pregnant, the birth of an unwanted girl in a society which puts greater value on boys or China's strict family planning rules. In one such case, a baby was found in a dumpster on the outskirts of Beijing. He didn't survive. In another, firemen in eastern China rescued an abandoned newborn boy from a sewage pipe. /
“Chinese orphanages have seen a falling number of abandoned children since 2005, but officials estimate some 10,000 unwanted children are still received each year. An unknown number of abandoned babies are also adopted informally. Once orphanages in China were overwhelmingly filled with girls due to the cultural preference for male heirs and three decades of a strict one-child policy - if couples were allowed only one child, many wanted to make sure it was a boy. The preference still exists, but it is much less prevalent as the world's second-largest economy grows and the country becomes more wealthy. So the abandoned children tend to be of both genders - and they are usually seriously sick or disabled. Fangfang, the first baby abandoned at the Tianjin hatch, outside the gate of a city orphanage, has Down's syndrome and congenital heart disease.” /
Guangzhou Baby Hatch Overwhelmed by Unwanted Children
In March 2014, the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou suspended a "baby hatch" program that allowed parents to abandon infants safely and anonymously, because a local welfare centre was overwhelmed with the number of arrivals. Some 262 children were abandoned at the hatch in less than two months. Twenty-two other babies died. Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian, “A baby hatch – or "baby safety island" in Mandarin – allows a parent to leave his or her unwanted child in a temperature-controlled room equipped with a cradle and incubator. The drop-off triggers an alarm and, minutes later, a welfare worker picks up the infant, allowing the parent to remain anonymous. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, March 17, 2014 ]
“Xu Jiu, the director of the Guangzhou Child Welfare Centre, said it had taken in 262 children since it opened on 28 January. All the babies – 67 percent of whom were less than a year old – had varying degrees of illness. More than 90 percent survived. The influx of children has nearly doubled the centre's workload, Xu said, preventing it from offering every baby appropriate care. The centre, which has 1,000 beds, is currently sheltering 1,100 children. Xu warned parents not to leave their children at the baby hatch after its closure, adding that it will only accept abandoned babies that are brought in by police.
"The number of abandoned infants we received far exceeded the number that were received by other cities' pilot programmes in the same time period," Xu said. Guangzhou's baby hatch received 80 infants during this year's two-week-long lunar new year holiday, provoking criticisms that the scheme was encouraging parents to abandon their children.
Chinese Parents Who Left Their Child at a Baby Hatch
Reporting from Guangzhou, Seth Doane of CBS News wrote: “Their cramped home is filled with the toys 34-year-old Chen Dafu bought when his wife was pregnant. "I got this one for free," he says, holding up a rubber duck. "My family is so poor - we try all means to get gifts for the baby." But when their daughter was born, she had Down syndrome, a cleft palate, tumors and breathing problems. "The doctor told us to prepare to pay more than $1,000 a day for treatment," said the mom, Zhen Yulin. "How could we afford that?" Their combined income was just the equivalent of $800 a month. [Source: Seth Doane, CBS News, June 27, 2014 /=/]
“Desperate, they turned to a "baby hatch" run by a government orphanage. It's a place parents can leave a baby they can't care for. It's one of at least 25 across the country. "My husband (said we) should send our baby there,'' she said, "because the orphanage had more resources." But there is the anguish of abandoning a child. "At the time, I couldn't even accept that my baby was sick," she said. "We felt so powerless." /=/
“A giant box now covers what once was the baby hatch. The way it worked was someone could come and put a baby inside an incubator and then push a button that would signal a nearby orphanage that a baby had been placed here. But when Chen Dafu dropped off his baby, he says, he didn't realize that the hatch was closed. Only about 12 hours old, their daughter died. And now Chen may face criminal charges for abandoning a baby. Police took the only photo they have of their child. /=/
“Luo Zhiyong runs a charity that raises money for treatment of the abandoned babies. He was asked about the perception that when you think of a Communist government — you think of a strong social safety net. Yet this wasn't the case. "The government doesn't budget enough," he said, noting that only one child per family is covered for medical care — and serious diseases aren't covered at all. Zhen Yulin is haunted by the experience. Their baby's death is a burden they'll live with forever. "When I sleep now, I still touch my belly to (try to) feel my baby." /=/
Poor Treatment of Orphans in China
In the 1990s a big deal was made about the poor treatment of children at orphanages in China. According to statistics put out by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs the ratio of deaths to new admissions at some orphanages in China at that time was 1:2. An orphanage in the Shaanxi province had a death rate comparable to that of Auschwitz (between 70 and 80 percent). The issue first gained attention in 1993 when the Hong Kong newspaper, the South China Morning Post, published an account of “dying rooms” in an orphanage in Nanning in Guangxu Province. Officials at the orphanage told the newspaper that 90 percent of the girls that were admitted died there.[Source: Carroll Bogert, Newsweek, January 15, 1996]
A report issued by Human Rights Watch/Asia on Chinese orphanages, by a doctor named Zhang Shuyun, asserted that many children that died in such places died from neglect. Among victims at the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute were: Xie Ying, a little girl who was admitted in 1991 and died 2½ months later of "malnutrition" and "mental deficiency;" Ke Yue, admitted the month she was born and dead 2½ years later of "severe malnutrition" and "congenital maldevelopment of the brain;" and Ba Zhong, admitted the day after she was born, and listed as dead five months later from a "head infection."
A news release that accompanied the report read: "There is complementing evidence that these astonishing death rates are the result of a deliberate policy to minimize China's population of abandoned children, many of whom have been born in violation of the country's family planning regulations and are sometime physically and mentally handicapped."
In a documentary broadcast by Britain's Channel 4, children were shown tied to wooden toilets and sleeping in their own excrement. One child named Mei Ming ("No Name"), who looked like an Auschwitz victim, died 10 days after being secretly photographed in a "dying room.” "He had a crippled leg," an American missionary told Newsweek. "I taught him to sing. Then I left town on business. And when I got back, he was dead." A report by a German magazine of an orphanage in Harbin described similar conditions.
Chinese officials have denied the accusations and took reporters to orphanages with smiling, healthy children. Later trips to the problem orphanages found the conditions there vastly improved. Describing the Chinese orphanage where she adopted her daughter, Time correspondent Jill Smolowe wrote: "Her orphanage resembled neither the 'showcase' facility that Beijing opened for foreign journalists...nor the horror institute described by Human Rights Watch/Asia. While the orphanage needed many things — more light, a paint job, toys — the facility was heated the nurses were attentive, and the children well fed, overbundled and bored. Several U.S. adoption experts tell me this description matches the conditions they routinely encounter."
Newborn Baby Rescued after Being Flushed down Toilet in China
In May 2013, a newborn baby has been rescued after being flushed down a toilet in an apartment building in China, not far from Shanghai. AFP and Reuters reported: “Firefighters in eastern China rescued the abandoned baby boy lodged in a sewage pipe directly beneath a toilet commode, in a case which has sparked anger on social media sites. Residents in Jinhua, in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang, alerted firefighters on Saturday afternoon (local time) after hearing the two-day-old baby crying in the fourth-floor squat lavatory. Attempts to pull him out failed, so rescuers sawed away a section of the pipe with the baby inside and took him to a local hospital. [Source: AFP/Reuters, May 29, 2013]
“Firefighters and doctors spent nearly an hour taking the pipe apart piece by piece with pliers and saws, before the newborn was freed with its placenta still attached. From the time he was found until when he was taken out, the baby was stuck in the pipe for at least two hours.”
John Bacon wrote in USA TODAY, “Firefighters and doctors successfully rescued the infant from a U-shaped pipe that it had become lodged in. In video footage that went viral, officials were shown removing the pipe from a ceiling that apparently was just below the restroom and then, at the hospital, using pliers and saws to gently pull apart the pipe, which was about about 3 inches in diameter. The baby, who weighed 6 pounds, 2.8 ounces, had a low heart rate and some minor abrasions on his head and limbs and was kept in an incubator at the Pujiang People's Hospital. [Source: John Bacon, USA TODAY, May 30, 2013 /~]
“The news triggered hundreds of thousands of comments on Weibo, with users expressing good wishes for the baby and fury at those who presumably abandoned him. "I can never accept or forgive the behaviour of dumping the baby with his placenta and umbilical cord attached into the toilet pipe," wrote one user. "Can these people be called human beings? The animal to human ratio among the grown-ups is rising inexorably." Another user said watching the rescue left her distraught. "Seeing the little one wriggling and groaning as the pipe was torn apart bit by bit wrings my heart," the user said. "You've lived through the hardest moment in your life and your future will definitely be smooth."
“There are frequent reports in Chinese media of babies being abandoned often shortly after birth, a problem often attributed to young mothers unaware they were pregnant. Chinese babies born out of wedlock are sometimes also abandoned because of social and financial pressures, and baby girls are often unwanted in a society which puts greater value on boys. The country's one-child policy can also mean heavy fines for couples who have more than one baby.”
No Charges for Mom Who Flushed Her Baby a Toilet
The mother who gave birth to the baby above said she secretly delivered the baby in a restroom and claimed the newborn accidentally slipped into the toilet The woman told police she got pregnant after a brief affair, hid her pregnancy from family and neighbors, before secretly delivering the child herself in a rental building's restroom. The infant was released into the care of the mother. A baby boy who made news around the world when he became trapped in a sewer pipe after his mother said she gave birth while on a toilet left the hospital — and no charges will be filed, the China News Agency reported, citing local authorities in Zhejiang province. Local police said evidence supports the woman's claims, the agency said. Police said the infant's 22-year-old mother, as well as his grandparents and the man purported to be the child's father, will take care of the child. However, the man said he intends to verify whether the child is actually his or not, the agency reported. /~\
“The woman, who had kept her pregnancy secret, gave birth to the baby in a squat toilet in her apartment in Jinhua. The police said the woman told them that she rushed to the toilet after experiencing stomach pain and subsequently gave birth to the baby. Police said the woman tried to grab the newborn before it fell into the toilet, but its body was too slippery and evaded her grasp. She then alerted her landlord and asked for assistance, police told the agency. /~\
“The Associated Press reports that Jinhua Evening News tells a slightly different tale. That paper reported that the woman did not admit that she was the mother until two days later when confronted by police who had found baby toys and blood-stained tissues in her apartment, the Evening News reported. Police later concluded that the woman did not initially come forward because she was frightened, but that she later started telling the truth, the Evening News and a Pujiang County propaganda official said. The police initially treated the case as a possible attempted homicide, but now are unlikely to file criminal charges, the newspaper and official said. Officials have not released the names of anyone connected with the case. /~\
Duan Wanjin, a criminal lawyer based in Xi'an, told the AP that local police erred in not prosecuting the mother. He said she could be charged with attempted homicide for not immediately calling for help after the newborn became stuck. "The local police may have considered the woman was still young and did not have any malice, and have come to the decision from the human perspective, but it sends a terrible signal to the public," Duan told the AP. Sociologist Li Yinhe said the only mistake by the woman was not to immediately admit the baby was hers. "I don't think that's a big deal. After all, the child is safe, and it has a happy ending," Li told the AP. "The Chinese people still lean heavily on the human considerations. Let it be bygones if there's no serious crime." /~\
Adoptions in China
Chinese are not very keen on the idea of adoption. One Chinese woman told the Los Angeles Times, “It would be very hard for me to accept adoption. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know what to do.” In China, adoptions are considered the same as having second children. According to China's adoption laws only childless couples can adopt children and they must be over 35. Couples are only allowed to adopt a second child if their first child (natural or adopted) is handicapped.
According to one survey most of the children adopted in China suffer from delays in physical and mental development. In the 2000s, most of the children left at orphanages were abandoned girls not orphans. Most of the boys were handicapped. It was not unusual to find children abandoned in train stations. Many were disabled or mentally handicapped.
Louise Watt of Associated Press: “Calls have also gone out for a loosening of China's adoption law, which currently states that only couples with no children can adopt, while also allowing couples with one child to adopt a disabled child or an orphan. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said there were 109, 000 children available for adoption in the custody of governmental institutions, 90 percent of whom were disabled and 60 percent severely disabled. Zhang Mingsuo, a professor at Zhengzhou's University's School of Public Administration, said few Chinese couples were willing to adopt disabled children "because they worry about the possible heavy medical expense." [Source: Louise Watt, Associated Press, May 29, 2016]
Girls account for the vast majority of adoptions. Many are babies abandoned at birth by families that wanted a boy. A mother who gave up her daughter to adoption told the Washington Post, "She was a mistake; we were worried about fines. So we gave her away. Many people do that. They just bundle the child up and leave it with the government. Perhaps she made it to America."
Overseas Adoptions in China
China is popular for adoptions because the system is well organized and efficient and because Chinese orphans are generally well looked after and are healthy when adopted. Orphanages generally receive about $3,000 per child for children that are adopted abroad.
China introduced new rules in 2006 that restrict the number of foreigners adopting Chinese babies. The new rules ban the obese, disabled, unmarried and people who take anti-depressants from adopting. According to the rules applicants must have a body mass index of less than 40, no criminal records, a high school diploma and be free of certain health problems like AIDS and cancer.
According to the new rules couples must have been married at least two years and have no more than two divorces between them. If either spouse has been previously divorced the couple can not apply for adoption until they have been married for at least five years. The couple must also have a net worth of at least $80,000 and have an income of at least $10,000 per person in the household a year. The new adoptions rules were enacted in part to deal with the fact that people who want to adopt babies far exceed the number of babies that are available.
Adoptions in China by Americans
For many years China has been the largest source of children adopted in the U.S. The number peaked at 7, 903 in 2005. In 2014, China accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S. but by then the figure had dropped to way below the 2005 figure. [Source: Associated Press]
China Between 1991 and 2006, American families adopted more than 55,000 Chinese children, almost all of them girls. The number of adoptions by Americans fell from 7,906 in 2005 to 6,493 in 2006. In 2010, China was still the largest source of adopted children in the United States, accounting for 3,401 of them. In 2014, there were 2005 of them. In 1995, China became the main source of babies adopted by American parents from abroad. The top five sources of adopted children in the United States in 2000 were: 1) China (about 5,000 children); 2) Russia (about 4,200 children); 3) South Korea (about 1,800 children); 4) Guatemala (about 1,500 children); and 5) Romania (about 1,100 children). [Source: U.S. State Department]
Adoption fees start at about $15,000 of U.S. parents. Most if the money goes to U.S.-based organization that locate children. Orphanages receive about $3,000 for a child. Parents can't refuse a baby or pick out one they like.
Typically parents get news of their child in the mail after working for months, if not a year with an adoption agency. If they decide to accept the child, they get on a plane and travel to an orphanage in one of China’s provinces to get the child. In many cases there are special hotels where the parents can spend some time with the child before making a final decision.
Many American parents with adopted Chinese children make a trip to China when their kids are pre-teens or teens so they can get aquatinted with their homeland. Local Chinese are often shocked by the sight of Chinese kids dressed like Americans and gawk and stare at them.
The most famous person who has adopted from China is probably Meg Ryan. .In 2006, she adopted her daughter, Daisy True, when she was an infant. Ryan also has a biological child, Jack (born 1992), with then-husband, Dennis Quaid. “Jim Caviezel and his wife Kerri Browitt adopted their three children, Bo (born 1999), Lynn "LeLe" (2001), and David (2010) from China. Caviezel is an actor who appeared in “Person of Interest”, “The Passion of the Christ”, “The Thin Red Line, The Count of Monte Cristo[Source: Ranker.com]
Giving Birth to an American Baby
Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, ““Federal immigration authorities say no law prevents pregnant women from entering the country. The women typically travel on tourist visas and return home with their newborns, who will have the option of coming to the U.S. for schooling, sometimes while the parents remain in Asia. American citizenship is also considered a hedge against corruption and political instability in the children's home countries. For some, giving birth in the U.S. staves off hefty fines under China's one-child policy. [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2013 |=|]
:The road to giving birth in the U.S. begins with an in-person interview at an American consulate in the woman's home country. Neither pregnancy nor the intent to give birth in the U.S. are disqualifying factors. The primary concern is making sure the applicant will not remain in the country indefinitely, the State Department said. Likewise, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers do not refuse entry because a woman is coming to give birth. "Obviously, the only reason it happens at all is because we permit it," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates reduced immigration. "They're not doing anything illegal. The question for policymakers is, 'Is this a good idea?'" |=|
Birth Tourism for Chinese in the U.S.
Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “USA Baby Care's website makes no attempt to hide why the company's clients travel to Southern California from China and Taiwan. It's to give birth to an American baby. "Congratulations! Arriving in the U.S. means you've already given your child a surefire ticket for winning the race," the site says in Chinese. "We guarantee that each baby can obtain a U.S. passport and related documents." [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2013 |=|]
“That passport is just the beginning of a journey that will lead some of the children back to the United States to take advantage of free public schools and low-interest student loans, as the website notes. The whole family may eventually get in on the act, since parents may be able to piggyback on the child's citizenship and apply for a green card when the child turns 21. |=|
“USA Baby Care is one of scores, possibly hundreds, of companies operating so-called maternity hotels tucked away in residential neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and other Southern California suburbs. Pregnant women from Chinese-speaking countries pay as much as $20,000 to stay in the facilities during the final months of pregnancy, then spend an additional month recuperating and awaiting the new baby's U.S. passport. |=|
“Maternity hotels have proliferated in the last decade as mainland China's new middle class tries to give its offspring every advantage. But birth tourism is not limited to Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. South Korean and Turkish mothers are also reported to pay thousands of dollars for package deals that include hotel rooms and assistance with the visa process.” |=|
Birth Tourism for Chinese as a Cottage Industry in the U.S.
Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Many of the hotels operate in violation of zoning laws, their locations known mainly to neighbors who observe the expectant mothers' frequent comings and goings. Such was the case in Chino Hills, where residents recently protested an alleged maternity hotel operating in a hilltop mansion. City officials have sued the property owner, claiming that the seven-bedroom house was illegally subdivided with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, with at least 10 mothers and babies living there. San Gabriel officials shut down a similar facility in 2011, and Chino Hills officials hope their lawsuit will result in a similar outcome.” [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2013 |=|]
“Critics also cite safety concerns surrounding the largely unregulated industry. A local attorney says he is representing a maternity hotel in a case where a baby was dropped and died. The California Department of Public Health also is investigating a case that may involve maternity hotels, said a spokesman who said he could not provide further details. Since the publicity surrounding the Chino Hills case, Los Angeles County officials have received at least two dozen complaints, mostly regarding sites in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights. Curt Hagman, a Republican assemblyman from Chino Hills, said he is looking into whether state government can play a role in addressing the issue. |=|
“Because of the increased scrutiny, some maternity tourism businesses are setting up shop in standard hotels, booking long-term stays for clients, according to Scott Wang, manager of China operations for USA Baby Care. Others are opting for apartment complexes, where zoning codes are more flexible and rents are cheap enough to serve a larger number of clients. Until a few months ago, USA Baby Care was located on a Hacienda Heights cul-de-sac, in a large two-story house with a swimming pool. Now, it operates out of a hotel in Rowland Heights. "We really want to make this industry legal," Wang said. "There's a demand for these birthing centers, so we should find a way to make them legal. Not a single one of us wants to operate by sneaking around." Maternity hotels nonetheless counsel their clients to be discreet. |=|
Image Sources: 1) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Baby, Growing up, Beifan.com ; 3) 100 children painting, University of Washington; 4) Rural children, Bucklin archives; 5) Adoption, Scafiido Family website ; 6) Baby for sale, Agnes Smedly
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021