The Chinese woman who raised the alarm about a newborn stuck in an apartment sewer pipe confessed to police on Wednesday she was the mother, according to the state-run, Jinhua-based Zhezhong News. The baby’s two-hour rescue earlier this week was broadcast live on state-run Chinese television, generating a global wave of compassion for the child and condemnation for his parents.
Police became suspicious of the woman when they found blood-stained toilet paper in her room at the apartment complex. The 22-year-old high school graduate and restaurant worker told police she became pregnant after a one-night stand, but when she alerted the father he would not take responsibility. She wanted to get an abortion but could not afford one, so she hid her pregnancy with loose clothing.
On Saturday, she delivered the baby boy in the building’s 4th floor public squat toilet. The woman said she tried to catch the baby, but he slipped out of her hands and down the pipe. When she couldn’t pull him out, the woman cleaned up the bathroom and told the landlord she heard a baby crying. The woman, whose name has not been released, hovered close by during the entire rescue. She later told police she wanted to raise the baby but didn’t know how. The child, referred to as Baby No. 59 based on the number on his incubator, was taken to a nearby hospital where he is doing well.
On Monday, video of the baby’s dramatic rescue went viral, eliciting severe reactions: Hundreds of posts on YouTube and various blogs condemned the baby’s supposedly cold-hearted parents. Others blamed China’s strict family planning laws for driving the parents to desperation. But as information about the baby’s mother came to light Wednesday, initial assumptions unraveled.
Joshua Zhong, co-founder and president of Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI), described the story as heartbreaking: “This does not represent the country. Regular Chinese people are very sad about this and think whoever did it was wrong.”
But, Zhong pointed out, unwed mothers in China face a very harsh reality: Social stigma and legal punishment for “unapproved pregnancies” await them. This “tremendous pressure” can be unbearable, he said. This baby’s plight, as well as the hundreds of thousands of babies who aren’t properly planned according to Chinese law, reveals the need for better adoption support.
China’s domestic adoption laws make private adoption difficult: According to the China Center for Adoption Affairs, the government arm that regulates all adoptions, placing parents must document why they cannot care for the child with a letter from their employer or “community committee,” and those wishing to adopt must have the approval of the local family planning office, including a document proving they are childless.
In America, safe haven laws protect parents who abandon infants unharmed. But in China, child abandonment is illegal and punishable with up to five years in prison. Thus, many babies, predominantly those with special needs, are left near orphanages or government offices where parents hope they will be found quickly. But according to Zhong, as many as 50 percent of them die from being left in an unsafe environment.
In 2011, CCAI helped establish the first ever Safe Baby Haven at Shijiazhuang Orphanage, in Hebei province. Last month, Zhong facilitated the first ever Chinese Baby Safe Haven Conference in Shijiazhuang. Child welfare workers and orphanage directors representing all of China’s provinces attended to learn about the social and legal history of baby safe havens, as well as hear the results of the nation’s first experimental baby drop: So far, 168 special needs babies have been saved. Zhong is optimistic baby safe havens will one day spread throughout the country, with legal protections for parents.
In the midst of this latest tragedy, Baby No. 59 spurs Zhong’s hope for change in his homeland: “The child is alive—praise God! He must have a plan for him. Just like He does for China.”