A curious wood paneled building has been constructed just outside of a hospital gate in Kunming. Resembling a quaint summer bungalow more than a medical facility, the one-room cabin is Yunnan's first 'baby refuge' — a place where overwhelmed caretakers can anonymously abandon their young children without fear of repercussion.
Opened April 21 outside of the Kunming Child Welfare Hospital, the three-meter square structure contains an incubator, hospital gurney, crib, futon and first aid supplies. It is also climate controlled and furnished with hospital-grade ultraviolet sanitation equipment. On outside walls, placards detail China's laws against child endangerment alongside contact information for community outreach programs. Noticeably absent from the scene are staff members, and that is largely the point.
When someone enters the refuge, referred to in Chinese as ying'er anquandao (婴儿安全岛), they trigger a delayed alert signal inside the welfare hospital. The alarm arouses a furious response — hospital security is notified and after a cursory check of the refuge, immediately summon on-call emergency nurses and local police officers. All are tasked with arriving on the scene in less than five minutes.
Assuming an infant has been left in the refuge, medical staff must ascertain whether the child requires immediate treatment by conducting a hasty physical examination. Basic triage care can be administered inside the refuge, before the child is transported to the neighboring hospital for additional treatment.
Following numerous test runs conducted before the refuge opened, health center officials have said the entire process takes no more than 20 minutes. Following their admittance to the hospital, infants are assigned social workers who attempt to place them in a new home. Where a child ends up is largely dependent on the child's age and the availability of beds in orphanages or foster homes.
Kunming is not the only city in China to open a baby refuge. Similar projects exist in 28 cities and municipalities around the country. The first pilot program of this sort was launched in Shijiazhuang (石家庄), capital of Hebei province, in 2011.
Although most abandoned babies in China were once girls, that trend seems to be changing. A Reuters report from earlier this year cites government statistics that estimate at least 10,000 newborns and infants are "given up" annually in China. The majority of those now given up are physically or mentally handicapped or have been born with life-threatening illnesses.
Baby refuges are not without their detractors. Critics maintain the centers facilitate irresponsibility and point to a failed endeavor in southern China that was forced to close. A baby refuge in the city of Guangzhou was overwhelmed with 262 abandoned children and operations were suspended just 48 days after opening. Its reopening is pending contingent on an expansion of the city's social service programs.
The purpose of the Kunming facility, according to Lai Wenbin (赖文斌), Deputy director of the Kunming Children's Welfare Office, is not specifically to encourage or discourage a particular behavior. Instead, she maintains, the facility exists to address an existing social problem. "The primary reason the refuge was established is to protect the lives of infant children".
Top image: Taici
Second image: Yunnan Net