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Surge in birth defects overwhelms Guangzhou baby hatch(2)

2014-04-16 08:54 Global Times Web Editor: Wang Fan
The safe haven established by the Guangzhou welfare house is cordoned off after being in operation for less than two months. Photo: Liang Chen/GT

The safe haven established by the Guangzhou welfare house is cordoned off after being in operation for less than two months. Photo: Liang Chen/GT

Baby magnets

The better medical facilities and transport networks, as well as the large floating migrant population, have meant that larger cities act as a magnet pulling in parents who wish to abandon children with health defects.

"Due to the better medical facilities and convenient transportation, people tend to believe their children can be taken good care of if they are discarded in safe havens in economically-developed cities," Huang Peina, a publicity official from the Guangzhou social welfare center, told the Global Times, adding that this reduced their feelings of guilt.

Many parents from other cities or provinces discarded their children in the Guangzhou safe island, Huang pointed out.

Even after the safe haven was shut down by the local authorities, many people from other cities and provinces continued coming to abandon their children. Some of them even kneeled down and cried when their requests to discard the children were rejected.

But child welfare experts have pointed out that despite the government's attempt to at least provide abandoned children with a safe location to be abandoned, there are larger structural factors causing the problem.

One potential solution would be reinstating compulsory premarital health check-ups.

Certain serious diseases that may affect the child can be detected during pre-marital health check-ups, or tests during pregnancy. However, China revoked compulsory premarital check-ups in 2003, and the rate of birth defects has surged sharply since then.

It is estimated that at least over 800,000 to 1 million birth defects occur annually, representing 4 to 6 percent of the birth population, the Southern Metropolis reported.

In some well-developed areas, such as Guangzhou, the rate of birth defects is much higher.

Statistics from the Guangzhou family planning bureau in 2011 showed that birth defects in the Pearl River Delta reached 2.76 percent on average each year in the past decade, which was double the rate 10 years ago.

"There is a great need to reinstate compulsory premarital health checkups," said Wang Xianxin, deputy director of the committee of society and legislation at the CPPCC.

The broader public's medical knowledge remains limited, as do channels to help children, which means that poverty-stricken families have nowhere to seek help. NGOs are often either overwhelmed or unable to find the children.

"We have social resources to help those children, but I don't know how to find them," said Zhang Wen, the initiator of Children's Hope Foundation in Henan Province.

In fact, the Guangzhou civil affairs bureau noticed this problem a long time ago.

Guangzhou authorities now cooperate with some local NGOs, asking them to stay in maternity hospitals or to monitor baby hatches to check on the condition of the new-born babies and do follow-ups.

"If pre-rescue measures can be offered to the poverty-stricken families with seriously-ill children, many parents would not choose to abandon their children. After all, they're their own blood," volunteer Xu Liang told the Global Times.

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