China’s southern city of Shenzhen is synonymous with Foxconn – the world’s largest tech manufacturer – and the migrant workers that assemble iPhones and gaming consoles at the company’s sprawling factories. Beyond the touch panels and silicon, Shenzhen has also gained the dubious distinction of being China’s baby abandonment capital – thanks in large part to a transient workforce that is overworked and financially unable to raise a child.
Although abandoning a child is illegal in China, stories of newborns being left in parks, public restrooms, and even dumpsters are not uncommon. Almost daily for the past ten years, a child has been abandoned somewhere in Shenzhen. A controversial new shelter seeks to provide parents with a safe and anonymous alternative – and Beijing has taken note.
The shelter, which is called the “Baby Abandonment Island” in Chinese, will feature a doorbell that parents can push to alert staff that a child has been dropped off. In the event that parents are too embarrassed to sound the buzzer (or if they simply forget), an infrared sensor lets workers know when someone enters the area. Though anonymity is a priority, the shelter will also employ a guard to observe drop-offs from a distance.
Inside, Shenzhen’s abandonment center will provide blankets, oxygen, and an incubator. At present, however, the center remains unfurnished due to a public outcry. Critics claim that, on top of operating in a legal gray area, it will encourage more parents to give up their children.
“Some people are saying that the shelter will encourage perpetrators to commit crimes. Of all the criticism, this is the only reasonable one,” Tang Rongsheng, the former head of Shenzhen’s Social Welfare Center and brainchild of the city’s new abandonment facility, told The Telegraph. “It is not a question I can easily answer because technically it is true that we are providing a place for the law to be broken. But while the media has hyped this issue, it is not as if people are not already abandoning children.”
Shenzhen’s Social Welfare Center, which will house the children who are left at the abandonment center, is already home to nearly 600 orphans. Tang expects half of them to be adopted. The remaining children, many of whom have physically or mentally disabilities, will live at the center until they become adults.
Despite the public backlash, Tang’s proposed abandonment center caught the attention of state officials in Beijing. Similar centers will be constructed nationwide, based on Tang’s model.
In Nanjing, a smaller version of Tang’s facility already exists. A tiny 5-square-meter building has been dubbed the city’s “baby box” for allowing parents to discreetly abandon unwanted children. A sensor triggers an alarm, which sounds after three minutes, giving parents enough time to flee before staff arrives. Police are not informed when a baby is dropped off and the center doesn’t attempt to prosecute the parents.
“Every year, more than 160 children are abandoned outside the front door,” said Xie Jun, the center’s director of nursing.
The children are transferred from the drop-off point to area orphanages.
China’s divisive one-child policy has led to a disproportionate number of abandoned girls. According to All Girls Allowed, Chinese girls are twice as likely to die in their first year of life than boys.
Mia Qian Collins is a positive example of the system when it works. She was abandoned as a newborn at an orphanage in Jiangxi.
“They left a little red letter with me saying I was healthy and the day I was born,” Collins told The Diplomat. “The woman who ran the center would take me home every night to her actual house so I didn’t have to stay in the orphanage.”
Collins was adopted by an American family when she was six months old. She is currently studying Chinese at Drew University and hopes to become a teacher or translator after graduation.
“I definitely consider myself lucky,” she added. “If I could say something to [the orphanage staff], I’d tell them that I really appreciate what they do and that I think they are under appreciated. People do not recognize what they do – it’s really hard work.”