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. In fact, 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.