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When mothers abandon their babies: How Switzerland deals with it

Updated on May 1, 2014
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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.

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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)

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.

What do you think about "baby windows"? Please leave your comment below.


Baby window

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An adopted child can bring much joy to a childless couple.
An adopted child can bring much joy to a childless couple. | Source

For most mothers mother's day is a day of love and joy, for others it's a day of regret and sorrow. Let's not condemn them, may be they didn't have a choice.

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    • profile image

      ExoticHippieQueen 

      7 years ago

      Actually, I'm shocked that such a low number of babies have been placed in the box. I think it's a realistic solution to babies left to die in garbage bags, an unacceptable answer. It's good that mothers have an option, and a safe one that has additional built-in options, such as reclaiming the child up to one year later.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting article and something I simply did not know. I was adopted at nine months and I am grateful (obviously) that my birth mother did not choose to abort. I will have to give some thought to this box idea before I comment further; my initial reaction is that I like it for obvious reasons. Anyway, thank you and great informative article.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      8 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      I'm sorry -- 53 million since 1973, I should have said. This is the result of Roe vs. Wade.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      8 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Thank you for explaining this concept to everyone. I had not heard of it. I think it's very good. There are innumerable abortions every year around the world, approximately 53 million in the United States alone last year. If Switzerland has saved six children, it is good.

    • Bobri Dobri profile image

      Bobri Dobri 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma

      interesting link!

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR

      Novascotiamiss 

      8 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      No need to be ashamed of your motherland. There are vast differences between Switzerland and Russia. Switzerland is tiny and yet one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Check this out:

      http://www.aneki.com/comparison.php?country_1=Swit...

    • Bobri Dobri profile image

      Bobri Dobri 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma

      OMG, so huge difference between countries.. I'm ashamed of my motherland..

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR

      Novascotiamiss 

      8 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Bobri, to tell you the truth I had no idea what the abortion rate is in Switzerland and had to look it up. Apparently in 2008 12.4% of all pregnancies got aborted, that's 12 out of 100. I guess people in Switzerland use more birth control than in Russia...

    • Bobri Dobri profile image

      Bobri Dobri 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma

      novascotiamiss, that's what always amazed me: that in many countries number of people wanting to adopt exceeds the number of orphans.. not in Russia. But what is abort ratio then (number of abortions out of 100 known pregnancies)? In Russia it is 81 out of 100..

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR

      Novascotiamiss 

      8 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Bobri, I find that 5 years in prison isn't much for abandoning a baby. The russian numbers are absolutely shocking, I was totally unaware of this. As mentioned in my hub, in the past 10 years only 6 babies were left in the baby box and of course they were adopted. As far as I know the number of people wanting to adopt exceeds the number of Swiss orphans by far so they go as far as China, India and Eastern Europe.

    • Bobri Dobri profile image

      Bobri Dobri 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma

      I didn't know that in Switzerland woman will face up to 5 years in prison if she abandons a kid. May be it is needed to issue the same law in Russia.. because i suppose there is highest rate of abandoned kids here - 200 000 kids in last year, and about 2000 orphanages.. Does all babies find new family in Switzerland?

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR

      Novascotiamiss 

      8 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      I certainly agree with all of you that abandoning a child sounds shocking, brutal and hearthless. But at least with institutions like these the baby is getting a chance. There are many people who would love to adopt and it gives them hope, too.

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 

      8 years ago

      Although it's a breaking heart hub, it's still a good hub calling a part of society. Rated up.

    • billchucks profile image

      billchucks 

      8 years ago

      in as much abadonning a child is not really good. i think between it and abortion, its a lesser evil

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