In the wake of two tragic incidents involving the abandonment of unwanted newborn babies in Sydney, Australian authorities are considering introducing ‘baby hatches’, a safe haven where people (typically mothers) can bring their unwanted babies and leave them anonymously, predominantly for adoption.

‘Baby hatches’, currently available in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Vatican, Canada and Malaysia, are designed to provide parents with an alternative option to abandonment should they not wish to keep their child.

While baby abandonment is not a hugely common issue in Australia, there’s no doubt it is both serious and complex.

Understandably, this horrific act itself is treated as a criminal offence in Australia. However the act has garnered unanimous professional and community agreement recently to provide those who elect, for whatever reason, to abandon their children, better options. Whether or not this means introducing ‘baby hatches’ at hospitals, is a topic up for debate.

The presence of ‘baby hatches’ in China is hotly debated, as many believe they may reduce the sense of parental guilt and even encourage such acts. Conversely, studies from Germany, where ‘baby hatches’ have operated for 15 years, have observed no decline in the infanticide rate. Infact, women most in need of the hatches are not even utilising them.

Although a common practice in medieval times, ‘baby hatches’ now compromise the human rights of the child. European ‘baby hatches’ have come under scrutiny by the UN in recent years, since children have the right in adoption practices to have some ongoing contact with their parents. However, a child placed in a ‘baby hatch’ is forever denied information about their biological family, which many believe, can incur a hefty emotional toll.

Perhaps rather than investing in ‘baby hatches’ in a bid to address such a critical issue, a better solution would be to improve support services to vulnerable women, or men, and their children.

Women who conceal their pregnancy, through fear of family or community judgement, are generally frightened at the time of delivery, which can lead to baby abandonment. Due to the shame associated with falling pregnant and giving birth, these women tend to visit hospital alone. Support and education at this point in time would surely help.

On the flip side, abortions are expensive and not easy to access in Australia. Abortion is only legal under strict circumstances (apart from in the Australian Capital Territory or ACT, where abortion is completely legal). In New South Wales and Queensland, abortion is considered a crime unless the doctor believes a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger.

Abortion is an emotive and divisive topic. However one may argue that terminating an unwanted pregnancy at 10 weeks is better than abandoning a vulnerable newborn baby.

Perhaps the combination of education and support along with easier access to abortions may be the solution to Australia’s abandoned babies: treating the problem at its route.

What policies are in place in your country? Share your thoughts with us.

1 Comment

  1. Baby Safe Haven New England on December 6, 2014 at 12:27 am

    This is an easy prediction, based on the exact statistics from the State of Massachusetts.
    The history is that on May 1, 2000 a newborn baby was found in a paper and plastic grocery shopping bag in the middle of the parking lot of the old St. Luke’s Hospital in Worcester, MA. The baby barely survived this abandonment, and could have been killed by any of a hundred cars as well.
    A few days later a bill was filed in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass a Baby Safe Haven law.
    It took four and a half years to pass this bill. The opposition during that time period was saying almost the exact same things as the opposition is saying in Australia. Social workers and state welfare “experts” decried how passing the law would “set back child welfare by 100 years.” Children would be “stripped of their heritages.” “More prenatal care is necessary, not legalized abandonment.” Babies would be legally abandoned “by the hundreds” due to this law.” Sound familiar?!?
    During the time while these so-called “experts” persuaded the Massachusetts Legislature to not pass our Baby Safe Haven law 13 babies were abandoned from one side of the state to the other. 6 of those babies died. 4 came perilously close to death.
    Finally our State Legislature woke up, but not before over 40 cities and towns voted in their local governments to pass local ordinances. The vote percentage in favor of these local ordinances was over 97% positive. If the Legislature didn’t pass the law when it did there would have been a state wide ballot initiative – which in Massachusetts is a way for citizens to enact laws. Smaller non-binding ballot initiatives were done to poll for the support saw over 85% positive voting for passage of Baby Safe Havens.
    The Massachusetts Baby Safe Haven law went into effect on October 28, 2004. For the next two years a media campaign went into effect to inform young people of our new law. Passing a law isn’t enough, people have to know about it for it to work, especially young people.
    There was a deadly newborn abandonment on January 2, 2007. That was the last one until April 14, 2014.
    Massachusetts went from having one deadly abandonment on average of every ten months to seven years and three months without one.
    Two other abandonments took place in that seven year period.
    A baby was placed on a doorstep, the door knocked on and the owner of the house responded to find the newborn alone there. This house was just across a major highway from a large hospital. The exits on the highway are very confusing in that area and it’s believed the Mum got lost, confused, panicked and went to a home where it was obvious that the owner was there. Later the very young Mum was reunited with her baby – with much counseling.
    The second abandonment took place in a neighborhood of Boston. A very young women had arrived from El Salvador — where no safe haven laws exist — and delivered her baby in secret four weeks later. No one knew she was pregnant, and was hiding it. She attempted to throw her baby out, but was caught.
    Very young women, women who come from countries with no safe haven laws, and women with substance addictions will always be the ones who are the toughest to get the message to about safe haven laws.
    Australia is now going through the exact same history as Massachusetts did from May of 2000, to October of 2004. It’s easy to predict that your country will see 5 to 10 newborn abandonments per year, with half of them deadly. Of the half that survive half of those will be found in very perilous situations. About half of the Mums will be found and prosecuted, half will never be found. That means close to three quarters of these babies will be nameless and have no family histories, or due to their deaths the family histories will be of no use to them.
    Not passing a true Baby Safe Haven law, with the proper public awareness component following passage — not “baby hatches” — will cost Australia many millions of dollars because there will be up to 100 abandonments in the next 10 years. There will be that many police investigations, half will have autopsies, a third will have trials and then most of those trials will result in incarcerations of between two to ten years.
    These statistics are almost the same in most states across America that slowed the passage of their Baby Safe Haven laws, and did not properly have good public awareness campaigns following the passage of their laws.
    The key to the Massachusetts 85% drop in newborn abandonments was taking many of the best practices in first the language of the laws passed prior to our passage, then when awareness campaigns began they were lead by young people who communicated peer to peer about the new law. It is the model for all other states and countries to follow because of the proven success percentage.
    If Australia listens to the anti-Baby Safe Haven so-called “experts” you will surely follow our history, that now we in Massachusetts are very sorry to have had in our past. It cost so many lives needlessly.
    Please DO NOT repeat history!