“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