The 6-month-old girl was found alone at night in a park in southern China, sleeping in a stroller. Next to her, in a lime-green backpack, was a bottle of infant formula, diapers and a two-page note from her parents.
“She’ll die if she stays with us,” it said, according to Chinese news reports. “We know this is selfish, but we have no way out.”
The police in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan are now trying to find the parents of the girl, who the authorities say abandoned her on Saturday because they could not afford to treat her epilepsy.
The case has prompted a national debate about the high cost of medical treatment and the hardships suffered by children with disabilities. Each year, about 100,000 children are abandoned across China, according to theNational Health and Family Planning Commission, many of them because they have disabilities.
On social media sites, many people were quick to criticize the parents of the 6-month-old girl.
“Whatever their reasons,” a commenter wrote on the microblogging site Weibo, “I can’t forgive them.”
But many people also lamented the lack of resources available to Chinese families raising children with disabilities.
“I have pity for the child, but the family had no choice,” wrote one user. “Unfortunately, the country has no way of rescuing these children, and they’ll only be exploited.”
Children with illnesses are often seen as undesirable and costly in China, driving many families to abort or abandon them. Abandoning a minor is a crime in China punishable by up to five years in prison, and courts have argued that if a child dies after being left in dangerous conditions, it is equivalent to murder.
“Parents are often nice people who feel hopeless raising these children themselves and believe they will have a better life with a better family,” said Qiu Lili, founder of Beijing Angel Mom Charity Foundation, which helps care for abandoned children.
A health care system marked by high co-payments and deductibles, as well as inconsistent coverage, means that paying for treatments can be devastating for low-income families. Adding to the problem, many families lack insurance coverage for infants, advocates say.
Ms. Qiu said that while families with disabled children in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai receive generous subsidies, those living in smaller cities often lack the resources to give them long-term care.
“Child welfare has improved recently in China, but it’s still not good enough,” she said.
The parents of the 6-month-old girl said in their letter that they had already depleted their savings, spending 60,000 renminbi, or about $9,400, on treatment.
“There’s no money to help her recover and she can’t take care of herself,” the letter said. “Her life is doomed.”
The letter, addressed to the “kindhearted people who see this,” said that the girl would be better off in a government-run child welfare center. The parents said the girl liked to be cuddled and that her caretakers should give her hugs to calm her down.
The last part of the letter read:
The child’s development is severely behind. If you can, please talk to her and hold her little hands and feet often. This might help with her mental growth.
The child has already started eating rice porridge. She can have a small bowl of it every day. If possible, please feed her a suitable amount.
We are really thankful to you, the kind people who will be blessed your whole life. We will atone for our sins for the rest of our lives.