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May 28, 2017

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Baby hatches: humane or encouraging irresponsibility?

A man steals out of the darkness and drops a paper bag at the door of the building, pressing a bell before he leaves. The sign above the doorway reads "Infant Safety Island," and a thin wail arises from the flimsy bag.

Next to abortions, more families have begun to adopt this as the seemingly more "humane" way to abandon their unwanted children — a method a former Social Welfare Center head proposed after countless babies were found to be continually abandoned in orphanages, parks and other less-welcoming locations that often resulted in their deaths. These "baby hatches" sprouted in several Chinese cities at the end of 2013, usually a random plot of land with a small box of a building perched on top and equipped with blankets, oxygen and an incubator. According to Chinese media, there are no surveillance cameras at the baby hatches to protect the identities of the parents, but a guard will be posted to observe the drop-offs from afar.

People familiar with the happenings in China have heard the grisly stories of day-old infants, umbilical cords intact, which are abandoned in sewers, dumpsters and often freeze to death.

Bearing the ugly name as China's baby abandonment capitol, at least one baby is abandoned daily in Shenzhen despite laws that prohibit such actions. After Tang Rong-sheng, the former head of the city's social welfare center, launched the alternative way to allow parents to give up their children safely and anonymously, opposing voices criticized the baby hatches and said Tang was encouraging more people to give up the responsibilities of raising their children. Officials in Beijing also took notice of Tang's proposal, and the method was officially adopted, with similar hatches established in Guangzhou, Nanjing and many other cities across the nation.

The practice arguably provides better futures for the unwanted infants — even raising the survival rate by 70 percent — but is this the only way out of China's poverty issues, gender-inequality and one-child policy problems? The actions of these parents should not be attributed solely to their character flaws, it should be noted that a stronger and unavoidable force is also at work.

Encouraged to abandon their children or not, many Chinese parents have left notes saying that they were forced to part with their offspring along with pleas to save the baby's life. This shred of conscience is perhaps what was left over from the long-running one-child policy, which has been slammed as the most far-reaching violation of human rights by many in the world. The government has been known to force abortions in families that are unable to pay the fine for their second child; but for families who have dodged this, the baby hatches seem to be the only way left.

Many in Taiwan have also criticized the baby hatches fiercely, saying that the method cultivates a sense of irresponsibility in parents and the next generation, who may feel that "abandonment" is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, the Child Welfare League Foundation has announced that at least one child is abandoned in Taiwan every day, which ironically ties with the notorious Shenzhen; the opposing voices reek of hypocrisy.

Despite how unacceptable the idea may be to Taiwan and its moral values, the concept of authorized baby hatches should be considered as the number of baby abandonment cases have hiked in recent years. Infants are mostly abandoned by parents who are unwilling and reluctant to raise children, whether financially able or not, as more and more Taiwanese are supposedly drawn to married life without conceiving children.

Either by regulation or by choice, both mainland China and Taiwan face an escalating infant-abandonment rate and also an aging population. With the ban on child abandonment, the baby hatches are established in a gray area within China's laws, but whether or not the practice is truly inhumane will be left for history to decide.

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