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UPDATED: January 9, 2014 NO. 2 JANUARY 9, 2014
Sheltered From the Storm
A nationwide pilot program to build havens for abandoned babies has been initiated
By Wang Hairong

SANCTUARY: The safe haven for abandoned babies near the Shijiazhuang Social Welfare Institute in Hebei Province (WANG MIN)

On the morning of December 3, 2013, a new-born left the world that he had just arrived in while lying in a pile of trash outside in the cold winter of Beijing's Tongzhou District.

The baby boy was discovered at around 7 a.m. the same day by passersby including a senior woman surnamed Sun.

Sun said that when she first saw the boy, he was naked and kicking his feet.

When emergency services arrived at around 7:40 a.m. in response to a report, they confirmed the boy had already passed away.

Local police reviewed surveillance videos near the scene and found that the baby was discarded at around 5 a.m. Unfortunately, lighting was not sufficient to identify the culprit's face. Police are still investigating.

On December 5, 2013, at a news conference in Beijing, Dou Yupei, Vice Minister of Civil Affairs, mentioned the above case. He said that safe havens for abandoned babies should be set up because life is precious and children's rights and interests should be a priority.

The proposed safe havens are temporary shelters that make sure that abandoned babies have a safe place to stay and can get timely help.

In China, it is illegal to abandon children. To escape punishment, the parents or guardians of unwanted children tend to leave them in places out of sight, and as a result, some babies may die or become handicapped because they are not found or treated in time.

According to Dou, setting up safe havens does not go against a policy of punishing those who abandon children.

Safe shelters

As early as in June 2011, China's first safe haven for abandoned babies was set up in Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei Province. Dou said that the Ministry of Civil Affairs has invited scholars, child-welfare workers and representatives from social organizations to discuss the merit of such facilities, and participants recommended that they are built nationwide.

Set up by the Shijiazhuang Social Welfare Institute, the safe haven in Shijiazhuang is located close to its gate.

Although it covers an area of only a few square meters, the booth is equipped with a crib and bedding, an incubator and an air conditioner to keep babies warm and safe. An infrared detector can alert staff at the welfare institute a few minutes after a baby is left there, so that the baby can be taken care of quickly. Staff are also put on duty to check the booth regularly.

Since its establishment, the safe haven had received more than 180 babies as of the end of 2013, according to Shanghai Morning Post.

The safe haven was first proposed by Han Jinhong, President of the Shijiazhuang Social Welfare Institute. Han said that before the shelter was built, nearly a dozen abandoned babies were discovered near the institute every year, most of whom were left in cartons or bags. They were exposed to the cold in winter and the heat in summer, and some were even attacked by cats and dogs, according to Han.

When Han learned about safe havens for abandoned babies set up in other countries, he planned to build a similar one.

"If we cannot stop people from abandoning babies, we can at least prevent the babies from suffering further," Han said. "Almost all children sent to the safe haven are seriously ill or handicapped. They were put here because curing them seemed hopeless."

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