12/12/2013, 00.00
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Baby hatches arrive in China to save abandoned children

by Chen Weijun
After Xian, Shenzhen will also open a "baby hatch", a small structure equipped to accommodate abandoned infants. Catholic sources tell AsiaNews : " A good step forward in favor of life, which is under constant threat in the country. But we will have to see how it will be managed".

Shenzhen ( AsiaNews) - In an attempt to save unwanted babies from certain death, even the government of mainland China has decided to launch "baby hatches", small structures near the major hospitals where unwanted children can be placed saving them from a far cruel destiny. After Xian, capital of the northwestern province of Shaanxi , where the "hatch" opened last week ( see photo) , the southern metropolis of Shenzhen has decided yesterday to launch the service , which will be operational by 2014. Other cities are preparing to implement similar projects, already present in neighboring Japan and South Korea

The Shenzhen "hatch" will be opened in the vicinity of the Welfare Centre, which since 1992 has taken care of about 3,500 abandoned children. In 2013, 90 babies were abandoned in the city , which is home to a huge community of migrant workers who are often unable to maintain even a small child . The shelter will be equipped with an incubator , fans and equipment for first aid : no cameras to ensure the privacy of the parents, who will press a special alarm knowing that they have 10 minutes before the arrival of assistants.

The decision has sparked controversy in a country for decades subject to the infamous one-child law . Despite the announced reforms of the last plenum - that seem targeted to allow couples the chance to have a second child - until now the birth rate in China has continued to decline inexorably. And the abandonment or killing of unwanted babies or those born outside the law and therefore impossible to maintain, is the daily news. According to the 35% of respondents from the site sznews.com, hatches "will increase the number of abandoned children".

David Xiao, a journalist just in Shenzhen who interviewed women forced to abandon (or even kill) their children, thinks the opposite: "The children will be abandoned whether there is a safe place for them ,or not. This program seems great because it gives these people and their children a second chance". His experience "in the field " has changed him : "I can not forget the abandoned children that I have seen , dead or alive. They are like tiny kittens, abandoned like trash. The mothers are often migrants with no education and no money. They give birth to their children in a public restroom and then leave them there , or strangle them . "

According to a survey by the Department for Family Planning of Guangdong, about half of the migrants who work in the southern province have sex before marriage. Of this percentage , at least half - then 25% of the total - becomes pregnant at least once. According to Chinese law, it is a criminal offense to have a child out of wedlock that can result in an administrative fine or even imprisonment . In Baoan district of Shenzhen, at least 10 single women (between 16 and 23 years old) were charged in 2009 with the murder of infants.

The practice of "baby hatches" is not new in East Asia. Despite arousing controversy, it is now well established in Japan and South Korea.  In the first case, the hatches are managed by the Jikei Catholic hospital in the city of Kumamoto in Kyushu , in the second , Jusarang Protestant church in Seoul .

Catholic sources working in China with abandoned babies explain: " This initiative is good : in Europe , in the Middle Ages , the Church welcomed abandoned children. Nowadays there are several cases where Chinese Catholics in many areas - especially the nuns , but also the lay - collect abandoned children, disabled people in general . There is some assistance, care for these children who live under constant threat. Small groups already exist.  The cases of Xian and Shenzhen are welcome, because they could also help reduce abortions . But there is always the danger of local officials, what they will do with the funds allocated to these projects. Hopefully use them well".



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