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'Safe haven' overwhelmed with abandoned babies

2014-06-24 10:47 chinadaily.com.cn Web Editor: Wang Fan

The Nanjing Children's Welfare Institution in Jiangsu province has hired guards and installed surveillance cameras in its "safe haven" to prevent parents from abandoning children following the surging number of babies with physical or mental disabilities received since it was opened in December.

By the end of May, the institution has received about 200 children, triple the number it received in the same period last year.

The guards patrol around the haven every 30 minutes, and check every time people approach the haven to prevent them abandoning children.

When the haven was first established next to the gate of the institution, no surveillance cameras were installed so that parents could abandon babies in the haven instead of remote and dangerous places.

"But we have to take measures to avoid receiving too many abandoned children due to a lack of workers and space to care for the children," said Liu Yuechuan, deputy director of the institution. "About 98 percent of the abandoned babies have severe physical or mental disabilities, such as congenital heart disease and Down syndrome.

"We didn't expect that parents across the country, some even from Northeast China, would abandon their children in Nanjing."

The institution is considering suspending the safe haven.

As the capital of Jiangsu province, which is located in China's relatively economically developed Yangtze Delta, Nanjing draws parents of sick children from around the country to seek medical help, some of whom choose to abandon their children in the city after learning the severity of the diseases.

Guangzhou, Guangdong province, had to suspend the trial operation of the safe haven in March, after 262 babies and children were received since it opened in January.

"Seeing those vulnerable babies abandoned makes me sad, but seeing those older children abandoned makes me heartbroken," said a doctor with the Nanjing institution, who preferred not to reveal her name. "We even received a 10-year-old child, who kept asking for his mum."

"Maybe it's a good thing for those children that their parents have abandoned them," said the doctor, with tears falling from her eyes. "Maybe we can take better care of them than their irresponsible parents."

Liu agreed.

"We cannot change some people's behavior of abandoning children, but we can change the consequences of their behavior, which is to save the children's lives," said Liu.

China now has 25 such havens in operation, since the first was established in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, in 2011. Another 18 will be established across the country.

Ding Hong, a researcher with Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said the government should restore premarital checkups and provide free prenatal examinations for common genetic diseases to prevent babies and children from being abandoned.

"A security system to support families with children of severe diseases should be made," Ding said. "The civil affairs department should also give more subsidies to children's welfare institutions to reduce their burden."

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