By Melissa Dizdarevic
A relic of medieval times, baby hatches reappeared about a decade ago
in Europe. In the old days, the baby hatch (also called a foundling
wheel) was typically a window at a church where a woman could
anonymously drop her unwanted baby into a box, turn it like a
revolving door, and ring a bell so those inside could give the child
proper care and attention. Today it works in much the same way,
though it is far more technologically advanced.
Among other countries, Germany re-introduced the baby hatch
(babyklappe) concept to respond to problems of babies abandoned and
left to die in the streets. The babyklappe seemed like a safe and
logical alternative. Since it’s re-introduction, however, the debate
over these facilities has continued, and they are under threat of
being shut down.
The baby hatch question gets particularly thorny because of the
competing rights of baby, mother, and father. Under the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child and the German
Constitution, a child has a right to “know his origins.” The Germans
translate this into at least knowing who your parents are, which is
why anonymous births are criminalized. That means baby hatches, where
you can anonymously leave your child, might be aiding a criminal act.
This right, however, presupposes the child’s right to life under both
the Convention and the Constitution. In this way, baby hatches are
actually protecting the child’s rights, where they might have
otherwise suffered a fate worse than not knowing their origins.
Critics of baby hatches contend that by banning these kinds of
facilities, though, women could be forced into exploring more
attractive alternatives such as adoption, or even keeping the child.
However, babyklappe operators and supporters point out the reality
that for some, anonymity remains supreme in making these decisions,
and without the babyklappe, they would be more likely to find infants
in the street again.
Babyklappe also deprive fathers of the right to know they have a
child, and of the opportunity to take part in the child’s upbringing.
Though babyklappe supporters point out that DNA testing could provide
assistance in ensuring the father’s rights, the problem really seems
to be that he might not ever know he was a father to begin with if the
mother doesn’t have to disclose his identity.
Though the debate continues, operators of baby hatches continue to
fight to keep their doors open. Unlike France, which has a liberal
anonymous baby-drop policy, Germans highly value the child’s right to
know his origins. And babyklappe operators agree to regulation so
long as they are not shut down. The difficult question then is how to
strike the balance between the child’s right to life and origins, and
ensuring enough anonymity that women will feel comfortable leaving
their child there as opposed to in the cold.