It must be a
heart-wrenching decision to abandon one's baby. One can only imagine the
desperate conditions that would lead a parent to do so. The reasons for
abandonment may be varied: an unwed mother facing intense social stigma;
parents unable to look after their child, often because it is mentally or
physically ill; or, as often is the case in India, simply not wanting a girl.
causes of the crisis, deeply rooted in Indian society, will not be easy or
quick to remedy. However, in the meantime, there's at least one good idea out
there for addressing this urgent problem: baby hatches. It's not a permanent
solution, but it could be a temporary stopgap.
A baby hatch is
basically a safe place -- maybe a crib or a room, often attached to a health
center -- where a parent can leave their child without fear of prosecution.
These children are then looked after by the government and, if possible, placed
with an adoptive family. There is a special term for such children -- not
orphans because they have living parents, but foundlings: they have been found.
Since the 18th century, variations of the baby hatch concept have existed in
much of central Europe, where they have sometimes been called "foundling
states now have "safe haven" laws, designated safe drop-off locations where
parents can leave unwanted babies. These are usually hospitals, police
stations, or fire stations. In France, a woman is allowed to deliver her baby
in a hospital and, if she doesn't want to keep it, leave it behind -- no
questions asked. Many countries have set up their own systems of baby hatches:
Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Africa, to
name a few. Canada installed its first baby hatch at a hospital in Vancouver.
Einsiedeln, a small town in Switzerland, has had a baby hatch for ten years,
and even though they've received only two babies in that time, they still feel
it worthwhile to keep it open. As the Economist
reports, "Now Germany has around 200 places where a mother can
either leave her baby -- heated 'baby hatches', usually with an alarm to summon
a carer -- or where she can give birth anonymously." In Pakistan, the Edhi
Foundation accepts abandoned babies at its numerous welfare centers throughout
the country. In China some officials are testing what they call "safe islands
for babies" and Australia is considering its own safe-haven law.
Since 2007, the
idea of a baby hatch has been slowly resurrected in
India. There are already some baby hatches operating in India, in the state of
Tamil Nadu. A United Nations Population Fund report explains,
"Instead of resorting to female infanticide, parents
who were unwilling to bring up their female babies could place them anonymously
in cradles located in noon meal centres, PHCs, selected orphanages and NGOs.
Subsequent to their placement in cradles, babies were to be placed for
adoption." Since the program's inception in 1992 in selected districts, some
390 boys and 2400 girls have been safely left, according to the Tamil Nadu
government's directorate of social welfare.