What is Japan’s “baby hatch” and why is it controversial?
After a man opened up about his experience of being dropped in a baby trap, a new debate has been sparked over the program which supporters say saves innocent lives, but opponents argue it encourages the child abandonment.
In the city of Kumamoto, in southern Japan, infants and young children can be dropped off anonymously by their parents at the country’s first and only “baby hatch”.
The issue has sparked controversy in the country, with critics questioning the practice, saying it should not be normalized as it will cause social problems and also affect the future of children.
Jikei Hospital established the “Baby Hatch” in 2007 to deal with the alarming rate of child abandonment across the country, including the case of a baby left in a supermarket toilet.
Parents who cannot sufficiently care for their babies, usually newborns, bring their children to hatches which consist of a door or shutter on an outside wall that opens onto a bed.
The bed is insulated or heated to keep the infant warm, and sensors alert hospital staff when a baby has been placed inside. Some are also designed to avoid being reopened from the outside once a baby has been placed inside.
The hospital argued that by providing a safe place for these children to be left, dangerous abandonment would be avoided and innocent lives would be saved. The children cared for by the hospital are eventually sent to other institutions or foster families.
No abandoned child had publicly spoken about their experience of being left in the baby trap until this year. Koichi Miyatsu, a man who was dropped into the hatch as a toddler, credited the system with starting a new chapter in his life.
“I owe who I am today when the baby hatched,” Miyatsu told AFP news agency, adding that he still had the clothes he was wearing when he was left in the hospital. hospital as a precious memory of his childhood.
Miyatsu was among the first children left behind and was adopted soon after. Now the 18-year-old works at a local church providing free meals to children in need.
While its story is one of success, the concept of a baby batch is not without controversy.
Critics say that rather than tackling child abandonment, the availability of baby traps is inducing infant abandonment and some people may abuse the system for selfish reasons and put babies at medical risk.
“A system that essentially allows parents to renounce their parenthood and anonymously give away their child raises questions of ethics, financial priorities and what is considered to be in the best interests of the child,” writes the author. Amélie Marmenlind for Metropolis Japan.
Politicians such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the majority of his ministers have resisted the program, as Abe said: “Those fathers and mothers who give away their child anonymously will not have my forgiveness.
Chief Medical Officer of Jikei Hospital in southern Japan, Takeshi Hasuda, on the Japan Hospital for Isolated Babies’ mission to provide a “last resort” for infants and mothers in need of urgent medical care pic.twitter.com/uAAjewJxz8
– Chronicles of Democracy in Asia (@demchronicles) July 25, 2022
Unclear legal basis
The Kounotori no Yurikago (translated as “cradle of the white stork”) system was modeled after similar programs and services found overseas.
Pakistan has the highest number of baby hatchings in the world with 300 while Germany has around 100, the Czech Republic has 76 and Poland has 67. Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia are also said to have outbreaks of babies.
The hatches are usually found in hospitals, social centers or churches, and the legalities of each change depending on the country it is in and are often ‘grey areas’ with no clear legal basis.
The most notable area of controversy is the anonymity behind birth, as baby hatches allow women to circumvent rules in many regions that require them to register during childbirth.
Proponents say the baby hatches provide a last resort for desperate women fearing retaliation for their registered births such as expulsion or family backlash. They may opt for baby hatches rather than more tragic alternatives such as infanticide.
“You have to be pragmatic and not close your eyes to reality. Abandonment of newborns exists, and if this outbreak helps us save one, it will be worth it,” Swiss hospital director Sandro Foiada told Swissinfo.
The growing number of baby hatches in Switzerland alarmed critics in 2014 when three baby hatches were installed in Davos, Olten and Bern over an 18-month period.
The organization Santé Sexuale Suisse has called on the directors of public health establishments to “critically (re)examine the offer of this type of service”.
“It is of fundamental importance, for the mother herself but also for the baby, to have access to all health services, before, during and after birth”, declared Mirta Zurini, independent consultant of the ‘organization.
“Basic conditions must be ensured so that she can be taken care of and supported from a medical, psychological and social point of view. With a hatch for newborns, this is completely lacking,” added Zurini.
Critics also claim that anonymous births violate a child’s right to know the identity of their biological parents, citing Article 7 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that the child must have “as far as possible the right to know and be brought up by his parents”
While ‘foundling wheels’ (the original baby hatches) disappeared from Europe in the last century, nearly 200 baby hatches have been installed across the continent in the past decade, according to the Committee. United Nations Children’s Rights (UNCRC).
From 2000 to 2012, more than 400 children were abandoned in hatches, according to the group of 18 international human rights experts based in Geneva.
“Just like in medieval times in many countries, we see people claiming that baby boxes prevent infanticide… there is no evidence for this,” Maria Herczog, a member of the Guardian, told the Guardian. UNCRC and child psychologist from Hungary.
In addition, critics also claim that anonymous births neglect the basic obligation of biological parents to raise their child and that the rights of one parent can be ignored if the other, or another parent, abandons a child without his consent.
“Studies in Hungary show that it’s not necessarily mothers who put babies in these boxes – it’s parents…stepfathers, fathers,” said Kevin Browne, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham. , at the BBC.
Other critics echo this sentiment and argue that baby hatching, although initiated with good intentions, is insufficient to combat child abandonment and protect vulnerable women.
They advocate for their dismantling and for longer-term plans to tackle the root of the problem, such as education, to raise awareness of social childcare systems and to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the rising cost of childcare. child care.
Instead of baby boxes, Herczog says there should be “better public provision of family planning, counseling for women and support for unplanned pregnancies.”
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Poverty and the cost of childcare
Despite Japan’s record birth rates, the number of abandoned children is alarming. According to the World Bank, the birth rate was 1.36 births per woman in 2019.
Japan’s fertility rate has long been below replacement levels, meaning that every year Japan’s population is decreasing.
A majority of Japanese parents said they wanted to have more children, but cited the cost of childcare as the main reason for their reluctance, according to a survey conducted by the University of Tokyo in 2018.
According to the Japan Healthcare Info (JHI), childbirth in the hospital can cost up to one million yen. Thus, Jikei Hospital argued that the baby hatch system can help financially unstable families with no other option.
Japan’s baby hatch has been in service since May 2007 and during this time 161 babies and toddlers have been left in hospital.
More than half of the babies left at hatching were said to be born at home without the help of medical professionals and many of their mothers faced poverty, reports the Japan Times.
According to a 2012 report, the main reasons for dropping off a child in Japan’s baby trap were poverty, objections from parents of expectant mothers or fathers, single couple, and a parent’s mental disorder.
VIDEO: When the alarm sounds at Jikei Hospital in southern Japan, nurses race down a flight of stairs.
Their mission: to rescue a baby left behind in the country’s only hatchery.
For 15 years, the clinic has been the only place in Japan where a child can be safely and anonymously abandoned. pic.twitter.com/lgLumqdNqj
— AFP news agency (@AFP) July 22, 2022
Source: TRTWorld and agencies