CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Cherishing life or providing a dumping ground?

HONG KONG (SE): The United Nations (UN), in its response to the Vatican submission for its periodic review on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, called for it to prohibit a practice which allows mothers who cannot care for their children to anonymously entrust them to the care of religious congregations.

However, the practice, known as baby hatches or baby boxes, has received a different reaction from a government official in Shenzhen, China.

Tang Rongsheng, the director of the Shenzhen Welfare Centre, argues that establishing baby safety islands comes down to a basic question of saving young lives.

“If we deny this using the excuse that we’re providing convenience for abandonment crimes, we in fact are sacrificing the lives of babies which is against the law, social morality and our civilisation,” he was quoted by the Guangzhou Southern Daily as saying.

UCA News recounted how a 22-year-old mother dumped her newborn baby in a sewage pipe in Jinhua, eastern Zhejiang province, in May last year, provoking a flurry of angry posts on Chinese blog sites and extensive coverage in worldwide media.

Although people have been dumping babies at the doors of convents in China for decades, for years the government refused to open its own centres. But in July 2011, the first one was opened as a pilot scheme in Shijiazhuang.

“We can’t change the abandonment, but we can change the result of it,” Han Jinhong, director of the centre, told CCTV.

In August, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a notice announcing that big cities in all 31 provinces could set up abandonment centres by the end of this year.

The centres are small, but well equipped with a cot, incubator and oxygen supply. Parents drop the child and press a time delayed alarm. Police and medical staff take care of the child. There is no camera and no police investigation.

Abandoning children is illegal in China. But the country has struggled to contain the side effects of its single-child policy.

In a 2012, an online survey by Sina Weibo found most respondents were critical of the government.

“If we had done well on welfare security for the handicapped—especially for children—how many parents would want to throw away their children? Baby safety islands are not a magnifier of humanity, but a mirror of government conscience,” a blogger using the name, Invincible Pupu, wrote.

Despite reports that abandonment centres are attracting large numbers of disabled children, many people argue they remain the lesser of two social evils.

Liu, a young mother who works in a factory in Shenzhen, said, “If you don’t want to, you wouldn’t do that no matter how good the island is. But poor babies can get shelter and be attended to.”

A survey conducted in Shenzhen in November found that 82 per cent of people supported setting up a baby hatch and 67 per cent said they believed it would increase a baby’s chances of survival.

Only 15.5 per cent were against the idea, although nearly one third said that abandonment centres encourage parents to give up their children.

The UN committee wants the Holy See to address “the abandonment of babies by providing family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies as well as assistance to families in need.”


However, the Chinese experience seems to suggest that these measures are far from adequate in addressing the real problem, which is to engender love and respect for human life.