Can’t afford to raise your child? No problem. Just leave your baby in what may be China’s 21st-century foundling wheel.


Such premise may seem satirical, but in a city of seven million, like Shenzhen, concerns surrounding child abandonment have become a harsh reality, particularly among temporary workers and those seeking better employment opportunities. Here, at least one baby is reportedly abandoned per day, left for good by parents too overwhelmed to face the responsibility of facing the bleak future that looms ahead.

Now city officials are setting up shelters where mothers can anonymously and safely leave their babies. These buildings, fully equipped with incubators, oxygen tanks and other essentials, have alarm buttons outside to help parents notify the staff upon leaving.

The move to open a foundling shelter came after intense controversy surrounding three cases of abandonment, which happened just a few days apart. One child found in a trash bin had serious organ damage, but was rescued and rushed to the hospital. The second and third infants were found in a lavatory, and outside the hospital, respectively.

It didn’t take long, however, for critics to question such a move, which they say is a way to condone the already illegal act of parents abandoning their children. Former city social welfare head Rongsheng Tang said that there were outcries accusing him of “teaching people how to commit a crime.” He also added that there were concerns that the number of baby traffickers would rise, as some might “lie in wait outside the shelter and steal infants.” Be that as it may, Beijing now supports Mr. Tang’s decisions, said the vice minister of Civil Affairs, Yupei Dou.

Fudan University professor Peng Xizhe said that “abandoning a baby is a crime in our country,” but he then added that the infants are “victims” too, and because such concerns cannot be quickly and directly addressed, “protecting those victims” is then a matter of sound choice.

Although more than 3,500 cases of child abandonment have been reported in the last decade, the frequency of such incidents has declined as the average Chinese becomes wealthier, given China’s robust economy. Today, the shelter receives 30% fewer children than what was reported five years ago.

“The numbers are not going to rise,” said Mr. Tang, amid stiff criticism. “Parents abandon their children only if they are faced with an insurmountable problem.”