The news from two neighboring states one day this month offered a confounding paradox.
In Beijing, a government think tank published a major report urging China to revise its highly divisive one-child policy so that, by 2015, families could have a second child. As it is, the Chinese authorities order involuntary abortions, sterilizations, tubal ligations, and other means to forcibly prevent women from having a second child.
Next door in Russia the same day, health officials installed the nation’s tenth “baby box.”
The purpose of the boxes: Parents who don’t want their new babies can place them in the baby box, push a button, and then run away. A nurse or other caregiver will come fetch the child and presumably put it up for adoption.
Before baby boxes came along this year, Russian authorities cataloged 268 cases of parents abandoning their newborn children—dropping them in trash dumpsters, tossing them in snowdrifts, leaving them in the forest.
Baby boxes are proliferating across Europe so fast that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is in a near-panic, arguing that dropping children in boxes “contravenes the right of the child to be known and cared for by his or her parents.”
The committee says more than 200 baby boxes have now been installed across Europe, and nearly 500 babies have been left in them, even though the boxes violate key provisions of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.
So what’s worse: Having your rights abridged while you’re adopted and cared for or having your rights abridged while you die in a dumpster?
Children are treated no better in China. Last summer, photos of a mother who was seven months pregnant with her second child and forced to have an abortion went viral on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. One picture showed the dead fetus in a bucket of water.
“Our country is run by animals,” a typical Weibo commenter said.
That particular abortion got lots of attention, but as most Chinese know, it’s far from unusual. Yang Zhizhu, an associate professor of law at China Youth University, obtained Ministry of Health statistics showing that, on average, China performs 7 million abortions a year. It’s impossible to know how many of those may be voluntary, he notes in his blog. But in a nation where much of the population fights the one-child rule, voluntary abortions are probably rare.
“Mandated abortions employ violence and coercion,” he wrote. “There are ‘population schools’ that illegally detain the parents, grandparents, and husband of the pregnant woman, or even the woman herself, in order to force them into ‘willingness.’ Neighbors, too, will scare the pregnant woman into ‘willingness,’” sometimes by vandalizing her home.
The situation is so ghastly and absurd that Chinese families would probably have better luck getting new children from Russian baby boxes.
Photo Credit: Chmee2