Toys ‘R’ Us reverses itself on baby’s prize

/ Source: The Associated Press

Toys “R” Us Inc. agreed on Saturday to award a Chinese-American infant a $25,000 prize in a New Year’s baby contest after the company came under fire for disqualifying the girl because her mother was not a legal U.S. resident.

Chinese-American advocates said they were infuriated by Toys “R” Us, which opened its first mainland China store less than a month ago, and launched an e-mail campaign on the issue.

The company responded by awarding each of the three babies in the grand prize pool of the “First Baby of the Year Sweepstakes” a $25,000 savings bond. Toys “R” Us is the parent company of Babies “R” Us, which sponsored the contest.

“We love all babies,” the company said in a statement. “Our sweepstakes was intended to welcome the first baby of 2007 and prepare for its future. We deeply regret that this sweepstakes became a point of controversy.”

Yuki Lin was born at the stroke of midnight at New York Downtown Hospital, according to hospital officials. The Wayne, N.J.-based company had said the prize would go to the first American baby born in 2007.

Although promotional materials called for “all expectant New Year’s mothers” to apply, Toys “R” Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said eligibility rules required babies’ mothers to be legal residents. Many sweepstakes have such requirements, Waugh said.

Waugh said the prize instead was awarded to the runner-up — Jayden Swain, born 19 seconds after midnight at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Ga. — after the contest administrator was told that Yuki’s mother “was not a legal resident of the United States.”

The third baby in the running was born in Bay Shore, N.Y., to a couple from El Salvador.

Some Chinese-American advocates said the company’s decision smacked of second-class citizenship.

“People are just pretty much outraged,” said John Wang, president of the New York-based Asian American Business Development Center.

Albert Wang, an attorney, who launched the e-mail campaign said “She was deprived of $25,000 intended to be used for her college education because of who her parents are,” he said.

The controversy had Janet Keller worried her winning grandchild in Georgia would lose the money, and said revisiting the contest would be unfair.

“She was disqualified — that should be it,” Keller said. “Don’t go changing your mind now.”

The company hopes the matter is settled now.

Attempts to reach Yuki’s parents, Yan Zhu Liu and Han Lin, 22, for comment were unsuccessful early Saturday. Their immigration status was not clear.