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Baby box ban: Why the UN wants to ban the practice

Baby box ban: Eleven nations in Europe have drop boxes for unwanted babies, including Germany with 100 baby boxes. But a UN human rights group wants to ban them.

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Yelena Kotova, head of Kolybel Nadezhdy (Cradle of Hope), a non-governmental organization, demonstrates how to use the new baby box in Kirishi, Russia. A UN human rights group wants to ban the use of baby boxes. Supporters say the boxes save hundreds of lives each year.

(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

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German pastor Gabriele Stangl says she will never forget the harrowing confession she heard in 1999. A woman said she had been brutally raped, got pregnant and had a baby. Then she killed it and buried it in the woods near Berlin.

Stangl wanted to do something to help women in such desperate situations. So the following year, she convinced Berlin's Waldfriede Hospital to create the city's first so-called "baby box." The box is actually a warm incubator that can be opened from an outside wall of a hospital where a desperate parent can anonymously leave an unwanted infant.

A small flap opens into the box, equipped with a motion detector. An alarm goes off in the hospital to alert staff two minutes after a baby is left.

"The mother has enough time to leave without anyone seeing her," Stangl said. "The important thing is that her baby is now in a safe place."

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Baby boxes are a revival of the medieval "foundling wheels," where unwanted infants were left in revolving church doors. In recent years, there has been an increase in these contraptions — also called hatches, windows or slots in some countries — and at least 11 European nations now have them, according to United Nations figures. They are technically illegal, but mostly operate in a gray zone as authorities turn a blind eye.

But they have drawn the attention of human rights advocates who think they are bad for the children and merely avoid dealing with the problems that lead to child abandonment. At a meeting last month, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said baby boxes should be banned and is pushing that agenda to the European Parliament.

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