China vows better management of "baby hatches"

BEIJING, June 24 (Xinhua) -- The Ministry of Civil Affairs has vowed to draft regulations for management and operation of baby hatches for abandoned infants, which are currently in a trial run amid controversy.

A baby hatch allows a parent to safely and anonymously abandon an infant and consists of an incubator, a delayed alarm device, an air conditioner and a cot. A person can place a baby in the hatch, press the alarm button, and leave. Welfare staff retrieve the baby five to 10 minutes later.

In a Tuesday statement, the ministry revealed that the country's existing 32 baby hatches had received 1,400 abandoned infants as of the end of June 18.

The first baby hatch in the country was set up in June 2011 in Shijiazhuang, capital of north China's Hebei Province.

Some believe the hatches encourage people to abandon their babies. However, others argue they demonstrate social progress in protecting and saving the lives of babies.

The ministry noted that babies collected from the hatches were usually sick to varying degrees and many were severely handicapped.

Zhan Chengfu, a senior official with the ministry, said that these baby hatches play a role in improving the lives of abandoned infants. However, compared to other countries with similar systems, a relatively large proportion of the infants collected in China clearly have parents and many are older than the norm.

Zhan noted that the oldest received in a baby hatch in China was 12 years old.

The ministry is cooperating with the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption in gathering experiences in operating these baby hatches and drafting management regulations before the system is implemented nationwide, according to the official.

"For children, families remain the safest 'hatches,' and a baby hatch only serves as the last straw. The two can never swap positions," the official added.