Bodies of 21 babies washed ashore in China

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The Independent Online

The bodies of 21 babies have been washed ashore on a riverbank in eastern China and two hospital mortuary workers have been detained for allegedly dumping them.

Video footage showed the bodies – at least one of which was stuffed in a yellow plastic bag marked "medical waste" – included some infants who appeared several months old.

Some wore identification tags with their mothers' names, birth dates, measurements and weights. The official Xinhua News Agency said there were also foetuses among the bodies.

Residents discovered the remains under a bridge in the city of Jining, Shandong province, over the weekend.

The tags on the ankles of eight of the babies helped investigators to trace them back to Affiliated Hospital of Jining Medical University. An official from the hospital confirmed it was involved.

The mortuary workers Zhu Zhenyu and Wang Zhijun were sacked and detained by police, said the Jining city government spokesman Gong Zhenhua. The babies' families had paid the pair to dispose of the bodies, but instead they dumped them at the river, Mr Gong said.

Three other senior hospital officials were fired or suspended, according to Xinhua news agency.

Mr Gong said the 21 bodies had been cremated, though it was not clear whether authorities were able to identify all of them.

Interviews with residents who discovered the bodies floating near the shore were broadcast on the Shandong Broadcasting Company website.

The footage showed bodies lying on parts of the riverbank. Some were uncovered, and others were in bags. A leg stuck out from under one bag.

The number of girls or boys was not reported.

More girls than boys are aborted in China because of the traditional preference for male offspring, especially in rural areas.

Although gender-selection abortions are illegal in China, the practice remains widespread and has led to a skewed sex ratio at birth in China with 119 males born for every 100 females. In industrialised countries, the ratio is 107 to 100.

An official from the information office of China's health ministry said she was not aware of the case.