When mothers abandon their babies: How Switzerland deals with it
The baby window, a legal way to abandon babies in Switzerland
The “baby box” (also called “baby window”), one of the most controversial Swiss institutions is celebrating its 13th birthday this mother’s day. On May 9, 2001 the Swiss Aid for Mother and Child (SAMC), a pro-life organisation opened the baby box project in cooperation with the Einsiedeln Regional Hospital. Einsiedeln is a small town in Central Switzerland known for its beautiful monastery, the Benedictine Abbey. Here we give desperate mothers of unwanted babies another alternative to abortion in the form of legal abandonment of the newborn.
Women who either cannot or do not want to keep their babies and wish to give them away anonymously can place their newborn in a box, which is integrated into the outer wall of the hospital. The box contains a crib and the hatch locks automatically to prevent protesters from removing the child.
Three minutes pass before a silent alarm alerts hospital staff of the baby’s presence, enough for the mother to leave the premises undetected. If a woman abandoned her newborn anywhere else in Switzerland she would face up to 5 years in prison. Not here - the baby box is the only exception to the law.
The babies will be placed in foster care to be released for adoption only one year later. This will give the mother enough time to re-think her decision and give her the opportunity to re-claim her baby. Mothers are also encouraged to write the name of the newborn on a piece of paper to give the baby an identity.
Are we preventing abortion or promoting child abandonment?
After reading all this you may be outraged and think that Switzerland is actually promoting child abandonment. Not really, after 13 years the baby box is still one of the most controversial issues of modern Swiss society. Some call it illegal, others unethical.
Fact is, that children are abandoned all over the world. Babies are left to die in dumpsters or found in the toilet bowl of a Walmart washroom. Drugged parents are trying to sell their newborn to complete strangers at a gas station for the price of a bottle of booze. Does this sound familiar? Every time we hear these headlines we are shocked and in disbelief. As heartless as it may sound, wouldn’t it be far more responsible to abandon a baby in a protected save haven that has been set up especially for this purpose?
The baby box is not a dead end road, parents have the right to reclaim their child before its adoption, which usually takes a year or longer. A “dear mother letter” translated in ten different languages encourages the mother to reconsider her decision and get in touch with the foundation or the hospital. Out of seven children one could be reunited with its parents.
The box stayed empty for a long time until the first baby arrived in September 2002. In the past thirteen years a total of 9 newborn were left for adoption, two alone in 2010. The initiators would also like to provide assistance to desperate women during their pregnancy. If for reasons of anonymity this is not possible, they feel this is the second best way to help. If a mother chooses life over abortion, then the baby box has done its purpose. Don’t call it the abandonment box, call it the box of life! According to statistical data the baby window has definitely saved a few babies from being killed or left to die and this has lead to the introduction of further locations. The organization now has its own website and information is available in eight different languages.
A second baby box was opened in Summer 2012 in Davos and a third one in Olten in May 2013 and a fourth in Berne in November 2013 . A number of Swiss hospitals are considering this option in future.
(updated May 2014)
Swiss baby window Website in English:
How do other countries deal with this controversial issue?
Baby windows are dotted all over Europe. Germany has about 80, with five in Berlin alone. Italy has about ten baby windows, Hungary 12 and Poland 16. By contrast, Pakistan has 300. In the United States, there are “safe-haven” laws which allow parents to give away newborns anonymously.
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