China Sewer Pipe Baby: Don't Blame the Mother

A 22-year-old unwed woman in China's eastern Zhejiang province unexpectedly gave birth to her secret child in a bathroom and accidentally slipped the newborn into the sewage pipe of the squat toilet, according to the baby's mother.

While she reportedly tried using a mop to free the baby from the pipe, the baby was wedged in so tightly that she had to alert the landlord. Changing her bloodied clothes and donning on her work clothes, she walked out of the bathroom and told her landlord there was something wrong with the bathroom.


Rescue workers had to saw off the section of the pipe with the child inside it and transport the entire pipe to a nearby hospital to free him. The pipe was just 4 inches wide in diameter.

Suffering only a scraped knee and several bruises, Baby 59 (named after the number on his incubator) is now in stable condition at Pujiang People's Hospital, at a healthy 6.2 lbs.

The woman told the police that she did not admit the baby was hers after the incident because she felt she could not provide for her child. She only admitted to being the mother after officials found the bloodied clothes in the trash and confronted her.

It is not clear yet whether this incident was truly an accident or a premeditated act. However, it would be naive to assume that all the young woman wanted was an easy way out of motherhood. It would also be irresponsible to vilify her, when there is a much bigger social and cultural problem that explains and goes beyond this 22-year-old's behavior.

The young woman realized she was with child after she and her boyfriend of one year ended their relationship. He refused to acknowledge the child as his own. Ashamed to tell her mother, embarrassed to confide in friends, and too poor to afford the state-run abortions that local governments benefit superfluously from, the young woman had no choice but to hide her pregnancy from the world. 

Internet commentators in social crowd-sourced media services such as Sina Weibo (China's version of Twitter) reacted harshly and were very unforgiving, claiming doubts to the mother's story of an accident, calling the parents "beasts," and demanding their imprisonment. 

However, harsh indictment cannot be granted without considering the young woman's cultural and societal upbringing.

Chinese families have an unhealthy obsession for a daughter's marriageability. Sons are for the most part more coveted and viewed as more privileged to explore their growth and education — daughters are viewed as nothing but dowries and incubators for offspring. Therefore, appearance, youth, fertility, purity — these are the qualities that women are ingrained to value and protect.

Bearing a child out of wedlock would severely damage her chances of ever entering into a good and respectable marriage. And in a society in which young women's corpses are illegally exhumed so they can be ritualistically married with deceased bachelors' corpses in hopes of a happy marriage in the afterlife, to take away the chance of being a bride would effectively destroy her and her family.

Commentators should also consider the one-child policy and the cascading effects it holds for young women with unplanned pregnancies. There are enough horror stories of Chinese women being blindfolded and injected with a chemical agent for forced abortions and enough photographs of exhausted women sleeping next to their aborted stillborn children to scare any woman from ever wanting to willingly abort her child. However, if not abortion, then the 22-year-old had no option but to keep her child a secret — no eligible bachelor would marry a woman who, under state mandate, cannot legally give birth to another child that would be his own.

Whether the 22-year-old mother purposely lodged her newborn boy into the sewer pipe or not is still up for debate. However, it would be unjust for observers to blame the young woman without taking into account the harsh traditions given to women who, for the most part, are treated as second-class citizens in a heavily misogynistic state.