Indiana could become the first US state to allow use of the baby boxes on a broad scale to prevent dangerous abandonments of infants if a bill, which unanimously passed the House this week, clears the state Senate.
Rep. Casey Cox says his bill is a natural progression laws that give parents a legal way to surrender newborns at hospitals, police stations and other facilities without fear of prosecution so long as the child hasn’t been harmed.
Many children, however, never make it that far. Dawn Geras, president of the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation, said safe haven laws have resulted in more than 2,800 safe surrenders since 1999. But more than 1,400 other children have been found illegally abandoned, nearly two-thirds of whom died.
Baby boxes, known in some countries as baby hatches or angel cradles, originated in medieval times, when convents were equipped with revolving doors known as “foundling wheels.” Unwanted infants were placed in compartments in the doors, which were then rotated to get the infant inside.
Hundreds of children have been surrendered in modern-day versions in place in Europe and Asia. The devices are even the subject of a new documentary titled “The Drop Box,” which chronicles the efforts of a pastor in Seoul, South Korea, to address child abandonment.
Supporters contend the boxes can save lives by offering women who can’t face relinquishing a child in person a safe and anonymous alternative to abandonment or infanticide.
But critics say the boxes make it easier to abandon a child without exploring other options and contend they do nothing to address poverty and other societal issues that contribute to unwanted babies. Some baby hatches in China have been so overwhelmed by abandonments in recent years that local officials have restricted their use or closed them.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for a ban on the boxes in Europe and has urged countries to provide family planning and other support to address the root causes of abandonments, according to spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell.
Whether the US is ready for the boxes is a matter of debate. Geras said many parents who surrender their children at safe haven sites need medical care that they won’t get if they leave the baby in a box. Handing the child to a trained professional also provides an opportunity to determine whether the mother simply needs financial support or other help to develop a parenting plan.