Children's shelter in Guangzhou closes doors

A man walks past a baby shelter outside the Guangzhou Social Welfare Home. The shelter was suspended after receiving a total of 262 babies and children since it was put into use on Jan 28.

CHINA - The trial operation of the temporary shelter in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, for abandoned children was suspended on Sunday, after 262 babies and children were accepted since it opened on Jan 28.

Nanjing Children's Welfare Institution in Jiangsu province may also suspend its temporary shelter due to a lack of capacity to care for the children. The institution has received 136 babies since it opened the shelter in December.

"Normally we just receive 160 abandoned babies and children a year," said Zhu Hong, director of the Nanjing institution.

"I may refuse to be interviewed in the future to avoid more publicity for the shelter," Zhu said. "Many people know about the shelter from the media and choose to abandon their children. Some people even drive from other cities to Nanjing to abandon their children."

Xu Jiu, director of Guangzhou Social Welfare Home, said the increasing number of children being dropped off at the facility's temporary shelter has put a strain on resources.

"Doctors and medical staff worry about the cross infection of diseases among the abandoned babies and children at the city's welfare home, as many abandoned babies now have to share a bed and other facilities," Xu said at news conference on Sunday afternoon.

The social welfare home, which has 1,000 beds, now houses 2,395 orphans and disabled young people.

"We have not decided when we will reopen the temporary shelter, and the Guangzhou Social Welfare Home will focus on curing the diseases of the abandoned babies and children who have been left at the shelter," Xu said.

In addition to infants, children aged 5 to 6 were also abandoned at the facility, Xu said.

All of the 148 boys and 114 girls abandoned at the temporary shelter over the past two months have been diagnosed with ailments including congenital heart disease, Down syndrome, brain failure and cleft lip.

Ninety-eight per cent of the babies abandoned at the Nanjing temporary shelter have serious diseases and physical or mental disabilities.

"We now have nearly 800 children, and will have to transfer about 150 children to neighbouring institutions," Zhu said. "Also, we'll seek help from other welfare organisations because our equipment and staff members cannot meet the demand of so many abandoned babies."

The first temporary shelter for abandoned children was established in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, in June 2011. There are now 25 shelters nationwide, and 18 more are being planned.

Guangzhou's temporary shelter is the first to close on the mainland. With a floor space of only 7 square meters, the facility, which cost 120,000 yuan (S$25020), is equipped with baby beds and incubators.

People who leave babies there are instructed to press a button when they leave, and staff members will arrive within minutes to take care of the children.

"Many parents took their sick children to hospitals in big cities like Guangzhou and Nanjing, and then abandoned them after they could not afford the medical treatment," Zhu said. "That's the reason why Nanjing and Guangzhou have so many abandoned children."

Xu said abandoning babies and children is a violation of China's laws and regulations.

Guangzhou Social Welfare Home will seek help from police when babies are left at the temporary shelter after it has closed, Xu said.

"The shelter will reopen after relevant departments have learned from the successful experiences of other cities and improved their management standards," Ye said.

The city's civil affairs department will cooperate with the departments of health, human resources and social security to help sick babies and children who come from poor families, Ye said.

"Personally, I hope that the temporary shelter can be operated regularly to protect the lives of more children," Zhu said. "Our pressure might be eased if more shelters are opened in other cities."

Wang Zhenyao, a professor at Beijing Normal University, said the closure of Guangzhou's temporary shelter is the result of the country's poor welfare system for children.

"To this end, relevant departments should accelerate the construction of welfare homes for children and establish advanced welfare systems to help the babies and children who come from poor families," Wang said.

Wang also said large communities should establish children's welfare homes for abandoned babies.

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