UN condemns 'baby boxes' across Europe
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is pushing to abolish baby 'boxes' where mothers can legally abandon unwanted babies. Social workers argue otherwise.
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Cristina Tango, Children’s Rights Assistant for the International Reference Center for the Rights of Children Deprived of their Family (IRC), agrees that baby boxes are a measure of last resort. “The issue is very delicate and controversial; different economic and social grounds may lead mothers to abandon their baby," she says. "These women are, in general, victims of a lack of adequate social networks and state public services. In the absence of such services, these boxes are a plausible solution to ensure the child's survival and guarantee women's rights.”Skip to next paragraph
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The Czech Republic is a case in point. There are currently 50 baby boxes scattered across the country, with more to come, recovering 75 babies since 2005.
But the country came under fire in 2011 when the UNCRC issued a report highlighting the country’s alleged violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The report said UNCRC was "seriously concerned" about the baby boxes and called on authorities to end the program as soon as possible. Instead, it wanted them to focus on eliminating the causes that lead to child abandonment.
Controversy brings support
Ludek Hess, founder of the program, says that his only goal is "to save babies." The UN's view is not of great concern to him, he says, as it does not have the authority to force countries to drop their baby box programs, and can only issue recommendations.
“I’m not the Czech state, I’m more like a grandfather,” Mr. Hess said. “It [the controversy] has been priceless media – I could never have afforded the advertising and have received a lot of support from people.” As the program is not state-run, the government has refrained from much comment, but the program remains supported by the country's human rights commissioner.
Hess's gray hair and warm nature add to his grandfatherly charm. Happy endings continue to inspire his activism. When a 25-year-old mother managed to conceal her pregnancy from her family and gave birth at home alone in the bathtub, she left the baby in one of his baby boxes. After Hess wrote something about the incident, she got in touch with him. He convinced her to try to get her baby back, which she did.
“She takes good care of the baby and we keep in contact,” Hess says. “It brings me great satisfaction."
In the Czech Republic, five babies have been reunited with their mothers after being left in baby boxes, saving nearly 7 percent of babies who otherwise might have died.
As Ms. Kaņepaja-Vanaga notes, “one can take back a baby from a baby box, but it could not be done if he or she would be left in the woods, or in a trash bin or stairwell.”