A look at China's "baby hatches" for unwanted infants

GUANGZHOU, China - The Chinese government said this week that a program to care for abandoned babies has been overwhelmed and as a result many infants are dying.

In 2011, China opened what it calls baby hatches -- where desperate parents can leave a newborn. A medical team is supposed to pick up the infant within 10 minutes.

But now, some baby hatches are closing because orphanages are full. Here's what happened to one couple who used a baby hatch.

Their cramped home is filled with the toys 34-year-old Chen Dafu bought when his wife was pregnant.

"I got this one for free," he says, holding up a rubber duck. "My family is so poor - we try all means to get gifts for the baby."

But when their daughter was born, she had Down syndrome, a cleft palate, tumors and breathing problems.

"The doctor told us to prepare to pay more than $1,000 a day for treatment," said the mom, Zhen Yulin. "How could we afford that?"

Their combined income was just the equivalent of $800 a month.

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Chen Dafu and wife Zhen Yulin are haunted by their baby's death.
CBS News

Desperate, they turned to a "baby hatch" run by a government orphanage. It's a place parents can leave a baby they can't care for. It's one of at least 25 across the country.

"My husband (said we) should send our baby there,'' she said, "because the orphanage had more resources."

But there is the anguish of abandoning a child.

"At the time, I couldn't even accept that my baby was sick," she said. "We felt so powerless."

A giant box now covers what once was the baby hatch. The way it worked was someone could come and put a baby inside an incubator and then push a button that would signal a nearby orphanage that a baby had been placed here.

But when Chen Dafu dropped off his baby, he says, he didn't realize that the hatch was closed.

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Police took the only picture of Chen Dafu and Zhen Yulin's child, which died after being left at a baby hatch.
CBS News

Only about 12 hours old, their daughter died. And now Chen may face criminal charges for abandoning a baby. Police took the only photo they have of their child.

Some 262 children were abandoned at the hatch in less than two months. Twenty-two other babies died.

Luo Zhiyong runs a charity that raises money for treatment of the abandoned babies. He was asked about the perception that when you think of a Communist government -- you think of a strong social safety net. Yet this wasn't the case.

"The government doesn't budget enough," he said, noting that only one child per family is covered for medical care -- and serious diseases aren't covered at all.

Zhen Yulin is haunted by the experience. Their baby's death is a burden they'll live with forever.

"When I sleep now, I still touch my belly to (try to) feel my baby."

  • Seth Doane

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