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Baby box ban: Why the UN wants to ban the practice

Baby box ban: Eleven nations in Europe have drop boxes for unwanted babies, including Germany with 100 baby boxes. But a UN human rights group wants to ban them.

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In some countries — Australia, Canada and Britain — it is illegal to abandon an infant anywhere. Yet, in the U.S. there are "safe haven" laws that allow parents to anonymously give up an infant in a secure place like a hospital or police department. A handful of other countries including Japan and Slovakia have similar provisions.

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Countries that support this anonymous abandonment method contend they save lives. In a letter responding to U.N. concerns, more than two dozen Czech politicians said they "strongly disagreed" with the proposed ban. "The primary aim of baby hatches, which (have) already saved hundreds of newborns, is to protect their right to life and protect their human rights," the letter said.

However, limited academic surveys suggest this hasn't reduced the murder of infants. There are about 30 to 60 infanticides in Germany every year, a number that has been relatively unchanged for years, even after the arrival of baby boxes. That's similar to the per capita rate in Britain where there is no such option.

Across Germany, there is considerable public support for the boxes, particularly after several high-profile cases of infanticide, including the grisly discovery several years ago of the decomposed remains of nine infants stuffed into flower pots in Brandenburg.

Officials at several facilities with baby boxes say biological parents sometimes name the infant being abandoned. "The girl is called Sarah," read one note left with a baby in Lubeck, Germany in 2003. "I have many problems and a life with Sarah is just not possible," the letter said.

The secretive nature also means few restrictions on who gets dropped off, even though the boxes are intended for newborns. Friederike Garbe, who oversees a baby box in Lubeck, found two young boys crying there last November. "One was about four months old and his brother was already sitting up," she said. The older boy was about 15 months old and could say "Mama."

Still, Germany's health ministry is considering other options. "We want to replace the necessity for the baby boxes by implementing a rule to allow women to give birth anonymously that will allow them to give up the child for adoption," said Christopher Steegmans, a ministry spokesman.

Austria, France, and Italy allow women to give birth anonymously and leave the baby in the hospital to be adopted. Germany and Britain sometimes allow this under certain circumstances even though it is technically illegal. Eleven other nations grant women a "concealed delivery" that hides their identities when they give birth to their babies, who are then given up for adoption. But the women are supposed to leave their name and contact information for official records that may be given one day to the children if they request it after age 18.

For German couple Andy and Astrid, an abandoned infant in a baby box near the city of Fulda ended their two-year wait to adopt a child nearly a decade ago.

"We were told about him on a Sunday and then visited him the next day in the hospital," said Astrid, a 37-year-old teacher, who along with her husband, agreed to talk with The Associated Press if their last names were not used to protect the identity of their child. The couple quietly snapped a few photos of the baby boy they later named Jan. He weighed just over 7 pounds when he was placed in the baby box, wrapped in two small towels.

When Jan started asking questions about where he came from around age 2, his parents explained another woman had given birth to him. They showed him the photos taken at the hospital, introduced him to the nurses there and showed him the baby box where he had been left.

Earlier this year, the couple began the procedure to adopt a second child, a boy whose mother gave birth anonymously so she could give him up for adoption.

Astrid said Jan, now 8, loves football, tractors and anything to do with the farming that he sees daily in their rural community. She said it's not so important for her and her husband to know who his biological parents are.

But for Jan, "it would be nice to know that he could meet them if he wanted to," she said. "I want that for him, but there is no possibility to find out who they were."

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Medical writer Maria Cheng reported from London.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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