Baby ‘Mailboxes’ Established To Rescue The Newborns That Parents Do Not Want

The concept of baby hatches is not new and dates back to medieval times when they were known as foundling wheels. These foundling wheels were usually placed on the exterior walls of churches and comprised of a cylinder with panels like a revolving door. A baby could then be placed inside, and the wheel turned so that the infant would then face the inside of the building.

The modern system of baby hatches, or baby boxes, first began in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1999. Since then, countries including Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan and Malaysia have adopted some form of baby hatch. Belgium had been due to open a second baby hatch in the town of Evere after a ban by the former mayor was overturned. However, it was reinstated in February 2021.

For many countries where abandoning babies is illegal, the biggest obstacle to baby hatches is the law. But to curb incidences of babies being abandoned in unsafe places where they are exposed to the elements and face the risk of death, some laws have been amended to allow newborns to be left in safer hands.

Such was the case in the United States, where safe-haven laws decriminalize the act of abandoning a baby into the care of the authorities within 72 hours of birth. The law was first passed in Texas in 1999 before all other 49 states followed.

Looking much like a mailbox, there are currently 74 baby hatches across the US, including the first to open in 2016, called Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Its founder, Monica Kelsey, herself once an abandoned baby, created the initiative to “assist with a safe, legal, anonymous surrender of a newborn.” Since its first hatch opened, “there have been no dead abandoned infants in the state of Indiana,” the organization said.

The Safe Haven baby hatches have been designed to ensure any baby placed in its boxes is shielded from harm. They also ensure anonymity for anyone using the facility.

Placed on the exterior of buildings such as fire stations or hospitals, it consists of a large panel that, once opened, will trigger a silent alarm that cannot be heard from outside. Inside the hatch is a bag full of resources for the parent and a bassinet in which the baby can be placed. Once the baby is inside, another silent alarm will go off. Within five minutes of the alarms going off, the baby will be secured by a member of the staff and taken to the emergency room. Kelsey also receives a notification and live video feed to her phone within five seconds of the second alarm going off.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes also made the headlines in January 2020 when a teenager in Seymour, Indiana, decided to enlist their help to get a baby hatch installed in his hometown as part of his senior project. Hunter Wart needed to raise $10,000 to make this happen. After more than a year of hard work doing odd jobs such as mowing lawns and scrapping metal, the 19-year-old cleared the target, and a hatch was installed at the Seymour Fire Department. Less than a year later, a healthy baby girl was found inside.

It’s incidents like these that Kelsey said she is working so hard for. She told CNN, “these babies were left in trash cans and dumpsters. One was left at the door of a hospital. That baby had frozen to death before he was found.”

“But this little girl (in Seymour) is going to grow up knowing how much her birth mom loved her just like I did.”

While Safe Haven Baby Boxes’s intentions are good, debate remains over whether the existence of baby hatches is appropriate. Critics have pointed to the fact that such a facility could encourage the abandonment of babies further. Others have said the hatches do not do much to save lives and that the key issues that need to be addressed are actually poverty and educating young teenagers.

Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University School of Law professor in California, said “It is hard to say this (baby boxes) is a bad idea, but it seems slightly misguided.”

She added while “the safe haven law is the least worst option when the alternative is a baby in a dumpster,” it is young women in particular who deny or conceal their pregnancies because of shame and fear who need guidance.

“I find it hard to imagine that immediately after delivering baby, by herself in the bathroom, she is expected to know the law, and get on a bus and into an Uber and drop it off,” she said.

The United Nations is also not on board with the idea of baby hatches, calling in 2012 for an end to the practice. Its UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said the facility violates the parts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in regard to the rights of a child to know who their parents are and be cared for by them.

A member of the UNCRC committee Maria Herczog told The Guardian there is no evidence to prove that the baby hatches are curbing the number of baby deaths.

“Just like medieval times in many countries we see people claiming that baby boxes prevent infanticide … there is no evidence for this,” she said.

What are your thoughts on baby hatches? Are they more good than bad? Let us know and pass this on to family and friends.

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