On March seventeenth, the Guangzhou Orphanage in China announced the shocking amount of disabled children dropped off at the baby drop-off hatch that had opened no more than two months earlier. Many babies had died due to a lack of care or too severe diseases and the world was shocked. How did it get to this, and is the Chinese policy towards newborns finally changing?
The infamous one-child policy that China sustains is well known and critique on the ramifications of this rule have not been scarce. As you know, the Chinese government imposed the one-child policy in 1979 as a solution for economic, social, environmental en demographical problems. It sounds simple: couples are limited to one child per household, parents who disobey this rule get penalized financially and possibly forgo bonuses at their work. However, implementation of this rule differs from region to region. In rural areas parents were allowed to have a second child if their first born is a daughter or if their first baby has severe disabilities or diseases. Truth is, thirty years later, in 2009, fertility rates have dropped from 2,63 to 1,61 births per woman but the question remains if the one child policy is fully responsible for this decrease.
Nearly one in ten died in that first month.
Needless to say, this policy has had its impact on social care in China. Abandoned children were the order of the day and even infanticide was quite common before the 1990s, despite it being illegal. As a countermeasure orphanages were built, which rapidly filled with the children parents did not want, or could not afford to raise. For a long time, these orphanages were predominantly filled with healthy girls. This is not surprising, as it reflects both cultural and labor preferences. Although, as the one-child policy is slowly phasing out, orphanages are faced with yet another pressing problem.
Indeed, the fact that the one-child policy is slowly being discontinued is a step in the right direction, but the number of abandoned children is still high. So high even, that the orphanage in the city Guangzhou opened up a ‘baby-hatch’ in January last year. No more than two months later, the hatch closed. Why? Because in that short time the orphanage received 262 babies, all of which suffered from severe diseases ranging from cerebral palsy to heart diseases to Down’s syndrome. Nearly one in ten died in that first month. This reflects a shift in the composition of the orphanages nationwide, as Chinese authorities estimated the amount of disabled children in orphanages to be 98%.
In the face of these harrowing statistics, the Chinese government continues to build more orphanages, even though more orphanages lead to more abandonment. Furthermore, the Guangzhou baby hatch proved that China is suffering from deeper social welfare problems. It has been a relatively short time since the Chinese government has acknowledged this problem, so solutions are recent as well. Yes, the Chinese government has taken steps to alleviate these problems, and stated that institutionalizing children is temporary due to a lack of alternatives right now. Furthermore, the standards of care in orphanages are slowly improving, and reforms in the social welfare system are gradually taking shape as well. Perhaps in a few decades the aftermath of the draconic policy and low social welfare standards is over, at least today the attitude towards abandoning children is changing.