The sounds of a crying infant echoed out of a public toilet in Beijing’s Qian’er Hutong on Aug. 2.
“The baby’s body was already swallowed by the sewage when we arrived,” Qian Feng, the head of Tianqiao Police Station and the man who saved the child from the toilet, told the Beijing Times. The infant was sent to a local hospital for treatment.
On Aug. 5, another baby boy with several congenital diseases was found abandoned in the woods in Jiangxi province. Police were unable to locate his family and sent the baby to a social welfare institution.
To find two babies discarded in three days is not unusual. China is confronting a growing trend of child abandonment.
“In the 1980s and 1990s there were 5,000 and 50,000 discarded newborns. The number today has really skyrocketed,” Ma Xu, a deputy in the National People’s Congress, told Sina.com.
Roughly 100,000 Chinese newborns are abandoned by their parents each year, according to the 2010 China Children Welfare Policy Report. Nearly all of the abandoned babies have disabilities or diseases, the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption said.
“[Child abandonment] is one of the biggest concerns in China nowadays,” Ma said.
Many in search of a solution have supported baby hatches – drop centers where new parents can abandon their newborns with no questions asked. China’s baby hatch system is heavily modeled on “safe havens” found across the US.
The first baby hatch opened in 2011 in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Over the next three years, another 32 baby hatches opened in 16 provinces.
Today, all are overflowing with infants.
Guangzhou’s baby hatch received 262 babies in the first 50 days after opening in January 2014. Comparatively, Japan’s only baby hatch took in 101 babies over seven years.
Adoptions could provide a long-term solution, but the process remains burdened by severe regulations and parents eager to circumvent the system.
Authorities say that “private adoptions,” which are carried out among individuals without the state’s involvement, are illegal. In Dongguan, Guangdong province, as many as 50 percent of all adoptions occur off the books.
Children adopted outside the system are rarely able obtain a residence permit or hukou.
Wang, the foster mother of 17-year-old Qianqian (pseudonym), has been trying to obtain a hukou for her daughter for the last decade. Wang’s father was asked to look after the girl at Chengdu Jinsha Bus Station in 1998. Qianqian’s birth parents never returned. Wang chose to adopt the baby, even though she already had a 3-year-old son.
In 2005, Wang began a 10-year battle to enforce Qianqian’s right to education.
“She stopped going school after 9th grade,?Wang told West China Metropolis Daily. “The high school told us that without a hukou she could not enroll or take the National College Entrance Exam.”
Registered domestic adoptions fell from 37,000 in 2008 to about 19,700 in 2013, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
The Chinese government approved overseas adoptions in 1992, and since then China has become the main source for international adoptions. The US is the largest destination country for adopted children, with 71,632 children being integrated into American families between 1999 and 2013.
But in 2007, China tightened its rules for foreign adoptions, leading to a 71 percent decline in American-Chinese adoptions from 2005 to 2013.
Child abandonment, as defined by Chinese criminal law, is illegal and is punishable by a fixed-term imprisonment of no more than five years if the circumstances are “flagrant.”
“Only circumstances that cause the baby’s death or injury can be termed as ‘flagrant,’” said Guan Aiping, a lawyer at Dongsheng Legal Service Office.
Hong Kong has a much lower rate of baby abandonment, partly due to harsh legislation, specialists say. Baby abandonment in Hong Kong is a felony punishable by as many as 10 years of imprisonment. If an infant born in a Hong Kong hospital is diagnosed with health problems, parents are not allowed to take the baby home and stop its treatment. Social welfare organizations support some of the treatment costs.
Another change in legislation that contributed to the rise in China’s child abandonment is that pre-marital health tests, meant to screen out inherited diseases, became optional in 2003. Since then, the birth defect rate has swelled from 4 to 6 percent, said Wang Yonghong, a deputy to the National People’s Congress.
“Reducing the birth defect rate would help fix the child abandonment issue,” Wang told Modern Express. But some say it’s a matter of morals.
Policy reforms, free lifestyles and rising living standards have led many parents to see babies as disposable personal property, specialists said.
“This disrespect for individuals and life is a sign a society caught in a moral crisis,” Professor Tan Chuanbao told China Youth Daily.