“Baby boxes” for abandoned babies are making a come back in several cities in China and Korea. Some say the more accurate name is “baby dumps”. Some are literal boxes or incubators, complete with visual instructions on how to use. Others are small buildings, with humidity control, air conditioning/heating, cheerful decorations, and no monitoring cameras so parents will feel safe.
All are designed as a safe alternative to parks or streets for parents to abandon infants they don’t want or are not able to parent. Most are connected or close to a child welfare center or public place and have an alarm so caregivers know when a child has been left.
Not Just in Newly Developed Countries
Before we get all high and mighty and wonder how in the world “those people” could do this, you should know that there are 99 baby boxes in Germany, 45 in Poland, and others in Austria and Japan. Safe haven laws in the US have the same intent by preventing legal prosecution of parents that leave their baby in a specified place such as a hospital or a fire or police station.
If You Build It, They Will Come
It’s hard to say whether the baby boxes have been successful at preventing child abandonment in unsafe places, but we do know that at least in China and Korea, the baby boxes are being used. In Shenzhen, 100 infants have been abandoned in the baby box so far this year; in Shijiazhuang, 170 babies have been left since the box was set up in 2011; and church that maintains one of the boxes in Seoul say they average 19 per month this year, up significantly since last year.
Do Baby Boxes Protect or Harm Mothers and Babies?
While designed with the best of intentions, some worry that these baby boxes actually do more harm than
good. “The baby box is not protecting children, and the action is not in their best interest,” Dr. Maria Herczog, a sociologist and member of the U.N. Children’s Rights Committee.
- The existence of a ready option for abandoning an infant may lead some women to make hasty irresponsible decisions.
- Studies in Hungary suggest that babies are often abandoned by pimps, fathers, stepfathers, or extended family members. It is not known whether the mother consented to these abandonments.
- The boxes may encourage women to give birth in risky areas instead of in a hospital.
- In some countries, such as Korea, abandoned children are not eligible for adoption.
Last week, the church that maintains one of the Baby Boxes in Seoul, South Korea, reported the following:
This morning we received a call from the person in charge of the Baby Box at the Kwanak-Ku office. I was told that the city of Seoul and the Seoul Metropolitan Children’s Welfare Center, and the Seoul City Children’s Hospital had a discussion and they have decided they will no longer accept the babies abandoned through the Baby Box.
They have concluded that other than in emergency situations, they cannot accept additional babies as there are no spaces available in the institutions in the Seoul areas. They told the Jusarang Church (where the Baby Box is) that it would be up to them to take care of the abandoned babies from now on. The city was scheduled to come on Thursday to pick up the children, but they will not do that now. They also stated that the best solution is for them to move to another area region other than Seoul. The other regions have enough rooms to accommodate the children, so it would be good for the Baby Box to move there.
What’s Happening to the Babies?
I am left to wonder what happens to these children?. International adoptions of “healthy young babies” in China have basically ceased, but domestic adoption of healthy infants has increased, so we can hope and pray that these children are finding homes. (Many children with special needs are still available for adoption from China.)
The picture is less clear in Korea. Infant abandonments are up, and some attribute the increase to the new Special Adoption Law, which requires that infants placed for adoption must first be registered with the government and must remain with their mothers for a minimum of seven days before being placed for adoption. In a society where unwed mothers are still shunned, many women go to extremes to avoid their family finding out about the child.
Proponents of the new adoption law acknowledge that more infants are being abandoned, but say that it is due to other factors and a misunderstanding by pregnant single women of the requirements of the new law. It should be noted that the new adoption law has not been in effect for very long and understanding of the requirements are not widely known.
Regardless of the cause, domestic adoptions are stagnant in Korea, international adoptions are declining, and more children are growing up in orphanages or are significantly older when finally adopted.
Thoughts? Are baby boxes helping or hurting women and children?
P.S. For an in depth analysis of the harm caused by safe haven laws in the US, read this 2003 report by The Donaldson Adoption Institute “Unintended Consequences: ‘Safe Haven’ Laws Are Causing Problems, Not Solving Them.”
Image credit: Chinese Child Welfare Institution associated with a Baby Box, Chinese Baby Box with Instructions, Korean baby box, Chinese Baby Abandonment Hut
Add Your Comment
good that the babies are left in a safe place, and have a chance. on the flip side, girls, women, boys and men know they can dump the baby if they get pregnant, and take no responsibility for their actions/negligence.
Yes, a safe place for babies who need care and nurture is absolutely a good thing. However, it’s a misconception to think that mothers or fathers are “dumping” babies so they can avoid responsibility. The cultural norms in both of those countries include heavy stigmas about single motherhood and children outside of marriage. As a result, they often face a life of dire poverty with few chances to ever break free. Leaving a child in a safe box is usually a result of desperation.
“[…] requires that infants placed for adoption must first be registered with the government and must remain with their mothers for a minimum of seven days before being placed for adoption.”
Dawn I have read both MPAK’s interpretation on the blog and the English version of the Special Adoption Act and neither say the baby must stay with the mother for 7 days – just that consent for the adoption has to be 7 days after the birth.
“S13 SS1: The consent to adoption by birthparents can be made 7 days after the birth of a child.”
Uses a slightly different sentence structure but says the same thing.
So just like in domestic infant adoption the babe can be in care, but the consent can’t happen until the baby is 7 days old.
As to the registry – I believe it has always been against the law not to register the baby and perhaps those who don’t like the new law have used that point in press and thereby scaring mothers? I would guess that the solution is simply education that the Korean government hasn’t done yet regarding the registry, and if the law needs a specific mechanism to remove it from public view after the adoption occurs – (if it isn’t already in place) I’m sure that is possible to figure out.
TAO, I’ve read both sides too on the registration issue. I believe that the overwhelming majority do not register because they are hiding their pregnancy and child from their family. As I said, the law is relatively new and general understanding of the requirements is slow.
I remember when they opened the baby box in Japan – it made national news. I read that this was created because there were a string of abandoned babies in that city and they wanted to create a safe place for parents to abandon/leave their child. I don’t really know the details, but I did hear that the hope was to put the babies up for adoption if the parents did not come back to get them. However, there were some legal issues (I think with family registries) that made it difficult for adoptions to occur in a timely manner (kids ended up in orphanages). It also seemed that in some cases, the parent(s) or family came back for the babies within weeks. Either way, ensuring the safety of the baby seems like a good idea.
It is, on one hand it is good that they are not killing them, but on the other that they just dump them somewhere… It’s sad that these women feel they have to do this, or they will be fined by the government for having more than 2 kids is it? Or can they only have one? These women don’t have the money to pay the fine or they just don’t want them at all.
too bad it’s so hard to adopt internationally and the costs are so high
Wow… I wish I could mother them all.
It’s such a complex issues, isn’t it!
What a difficult situation. While safe haven type laws I’m sure are helpful in some cases and do encourage safe deposition of a child that is unwanted instead of in a trash can at prom for example, does it really help if the children aren’t eligible to be adopted? If the individuals of the country that are affected by the law (I.e. Women in Korea) don’t understand the law then it is on the country to educate women. If the women hope for adoption for the kids they abandon but are using methods that prevent that then clearly they don’t understand the parts of the law. That’s not safe nor good for anyone anywhere.
Furthermore I think we are all aware of orphanage care and the delays it can and does cause.
In China there is no legal way yo give a child up for adoption. So families who cannot parent don’t have very many other options other than abandoning their baby. So many of the babies are left places, many times in high traffic places, in hopes that they will be found quickly. Train stations, trains, bus stops, orphanage door steps, on a bench near a busy street, all are common places for a child to be found. In China it is also legal for a child who has been abandoned to be adopted internationally, and actually it wasn’t until recently that a child with known living relatives was permitted have a file created to be submitted for adoption. It is also very true that there aren’t very many healthy infants being adopted from China anymore. However, there are children with needs that in the US we consider them so minor that they are really non issues. There are also children available who have had their medical need taken care of, and who are now currently healthy, but they wait because they are older. There are also often healthy older children who for whatever reason their file was just not made until they are older. So there are LOTS of children available for adoption from China. Most of these children were left somewhere and later found and brought to the orphanage. The abandonments are happening, with or without the baby boxes. They will continue to happen in China. The difference that the baby boxes make is that more will have the chance at being found quickly and in turn be healthier and have a better chance at survival. As I have been researching our son’s finding spot, I have come across many articles about children who had been abandoned and just not found in time, so many do not survive. If there was another option of a safe place to leave the child, these deaths may decrease.
In Korea, I am afraid it is so necessary.The baby box was started because babies were being abandoned and dying. And that still happens, as there is only one baby box in the country. It is sad that once babies are abandoned, they are not adoptable, but they are alive. And, the children’s homes in Korea are well run and the kids well cared for. They do try to make them more like family units and less like institutions. I also don’t think the moms misunderstand the new law here. They must register their babies, which puts them on their family registry permanently. This was done in preparation for the Hague to take effect so adoptees can trace where they came from. In a society where that can help prevent you from finding a husband and can even effect your ability in finding a job, that is a big incentive to not register your child. Plus, in many cases the family members do not want this either. I have privately adopted and their were concerns on the part of the mothers that the baby would stay on their registry, but because it is a private adoption, the children’s names are struck from the family registry and the kids are now listed with us as their parents. This does not happen with an agency adoption. So, if a mother places her child with an agency, that child is forever listed on her registry. One of the birth moms of my kids had that as a concern because this was their 4th baby and they did not want their other children to see this 4th baby on the registry and have to explain. So, my hope is that they actually change their laws so that abandoned babies are adoptable. Because, unless you change the mindset of an entire nation, the abandonment of babies is going to continue, with or without a baby box. At least those left in the box are well cared for and have a chance at survival. I have found it unfathomable that these poor babies are then left to never have a forever home.
Thank you Dawn for bringing light to these issues
Its incredibly important that all people with offspring be held accountable as parents for their own offspring. This prevents children from being sold by their parents or purchased by others or kidnapped. Of course you should not be able to adopt a child if you can’t find their true parents because you don’t know if the child was kidnapped or possibly the mother was forced by her parents to give the child up. At best I’d say a child who appears to be a foundling should never wind up permanently adopted by anyone because what if the child’s parents surface and the child was kidnapped and put in one of these boxes – the child should have a right to go home to their own family and not have to stay with the adoptive family. Its important not to get fooled into thinking that these boxes save lives. There is no way to know that they would otherwise die. Their mothers and fathers might otherwise actually keep them and raise them as they are suppose to.
Marilyn, it seems incredibly unfair to a child to grow up without a family simply on the off-chance that his parents may someday come looking for him or change their mind and decide that they want to parent. At the same time, with abandoned children, we need to give parents a reasonable chance to step up if their has been a mistake, kidnapping, or change of mind. While we might debate what is reasonable, clearly to my mind, a lifetime is not reasonable.
I was abadonded on the steps of a police station in South Korea in 1971. I ended up in a room with 100 other crying babies, with 2 nurses to feed us. We were not held as there was not enough staff for all the babies. I spent the first 2 plus weeks of my life at the Souel Children’s Hospital. I was adopted my an Army soldier who was drafted during the Vietnam War & stationed in Korea & his wife. They are my “true parents”. I find that use of description very offensive. I know no other parents. My parents abandoned me. Yes, it was in a high traffic area, but if not for my parents I would not have lived. When they adopted me & took me to th U.S. Army hospital the doctors told my parents to think carefully about continuing the adoption process as I had less than a 30% chance of living. I was premature & quite ill. They chose to adopt me & I received the medical care I so desperately needed. They are my “true parents”. You may want to consider the language you use as it could be very offensive to folks like myself. I actually stopped reading your post when I got to the phrase “true parents” as it shows me ignorance on your part of what a parent is to an adoptee. Food for thought.
This is awful. It is so sad that this is what society pressures lead to these types of things. Thank you for bringing awareness to this Dawn.
There is virtually no way to say for certain these boxes help but I think a good analysis would find they are a better alternative in unfortunate circumstances. There are so many factors. Abandonment without the mother’s consent is a related but separate issue altogether but even in these cases the child may in fact be better off. Even in the US where making an adoption plan is legal and being a single mother is no longer the end of the world mother’s often have options for dropping off an infant they feel they cannot parent. One would think government officials could correlate the numbers of children abandoned in areas that do and do not have the baby boxes to compare numbers. Are fewer babies abandoned on the street if the baby box is an option? What happens to children whose parents cannot meet their needs but have no alternative, I suspect neglect and abuse rates are higher for these children. In the long run whether or not that is worse then institutional care is dependent on so many factors where quality of care varies and risk for abuse is also high, there is no clear answer. But really the baby box is a no brainer, because it is better then the street, it is better then a dumpster and if a mother has the courage to put her child in the baby box her situation is likely dire.