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Desperate parents overwhelm China's 'baby hatches'

By Lucy Watson: China Correspondent

Having watched a mother and a father, from two separate families, abandon their children within minutes of each other and just metres in front of us, you can only say that it is truly an act of utter desperation.

It forces you to ask so many questions: Why are they doing it? How can they do it? Why can't somebody help them? How can a parent be separated from their child forever, so easily, so quickly?

We spoke to one young couple in Guangzhou, Southern China who’d abandoned their daughter.

A baby hatch, where families abandon children they cannot afford to care for. Credit: ITV News

Zheng Yuling and Chen Da Bu handed her over 24 hours after she was born. Zheng Yuling had had three previous miscarriages.

She'd named her daughter Xiao Jin Bian which translates as “Golden Edge", explaining to me it’s the light you see around clouds when the sun is trying appear from behind them.

Zheng Yuling says she still pretends her baby is inside her tummy. Credit: ITV News

She believed her daughter was going to bring that kind of joy and light into their lives. Instead, after finding out she was born with Down Syndrome and breathing problems and it would cost them £2,000 for her to be admitted to a special care unit, then £800 for every day thereafter, they had no choice but to abandon her.

The couple said they had no choice but to leave their daughter in the hatch. Credit: ITV News

They are factory workers who earn little and simply couldn’t afford to sustain the care. They said:

Nobody helped us, nobody advised us. We had no other choice.

Zheng Yuling told me she feels “so guilty."

A child like “Golden Edge” is being abandoned every three hours at just one so-called "baby hatch” in China, two hours from the capital, Beijing.

There are 26 of them nationwide. They are small concrete “sheds,” housing a few cots, near child welfare centres, where unwanted children can be left by their parents under a “safe haven” law, so they don’t then face prosecution.

Children are being abandoned at 'baby hatches' at an astonishing rate. Some are cared for by charities. Credit: ITV News

Hatches were set-up in the country in 2011, as the government’s alternative solution to children being left on the streets.

They’re seen as "havens of hope,” and parents very much believe their sick child has some chance if they abandon them there to be cared for by the state.

Some also exist, under different guises, in America, Germany, Russia, Poland, Japan, Italy, the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Hungary.

The babies deposited at the 'hatch' are then taken away by nurses. Credit: ITV News.

700,000 children are orphaned or live without adult care in China. And of those living in institutions, 90 per cent are thought to have some form of disability

But the demand for “hatches” in the country is so great, that the influx of babies being handed over is forcing some of them to close.

The one in Guangzhou was boarded up and shut in March because it received 262 babies in less than three months.

This baby hatch in Guangzhou was boarded up because too many parents were abandoning their babies. Credit: ITV News

The vast majority of these unwanted children are either sick or disabled. Yes, China’s One Child Policy has an influence.

If a family gives up a sick baby then they are legally entitled to have another, but the real reason that so many are being handed over is because families living in poverty simply cannot afford their medical treatment or care under the nation’s social welfare system.

The government assists, to some extent, with surgery but the parents must contribute, and for any recovery procedures, out-patient care, support for families or education, they are on their own.

Charity workers say putting the baby in the 'hatch' at least means there is hope/ Credit: ITV News

Many do see the “hatches” as a good idea though. Dong Li Juan, also called “Angel Mum", who works for the charitable organisation “Lion Foundation” in Guangzhou told me:

We call them love-islands, because at least the baby has some hope.

She went on to say that care for an ill or disabled child can "bankrupt not only an immediate family but their extended family too.”

We were also told by a former government advisor on child welfare that he hopes the situation will change in a few years. He believes the issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

We must learn how to treat these children better, get more money from the government, in particular to support the families.

UNICEF is also working with the Chinese government to help them understand that there are indeed other ways of dealing with the care of such children. Education is paramount and implementing more localised care, care within communities so its more easily accessible for families is also being suggested.

The state has vowed to train two million social workers by the year 2015 to aid this process. It is an acknowledgement but not a response being exacted quickly enough.

ITV News filmed this baby be deposited in a 'hatch'. Credit: ITV News

When you see a mother place a child in a cot in an alien place, take one last look at the baby she gave birth to days earlier, and walk away, and then you see that child blink and yawn, alone in that cot, and unaware it’s now an orphan, anything seems inadequate other than love and care from its parent.