Skip to main content

Baby hatch, safe haven ... we can protect the innocent


Modern day baby hatches are met with controversy although the practice of secretly abandoning babies has been around for centuries.

A baby hatch is a place where mothers can bring their babies, usually newborn, and leave them anonymously in a safe place to be found and cared for.

a baby hatch in Germany

a baby hatch in Germany

a baby hatch in Germany

a baby hatch in Germany

a baby hatch in Japan

a baby hatch in Japan

a baby hatch in Malaysia

a baby hatch in Malaysia

Angels Cradle at St. Pauls Hospital, Vancouver BC, Canada

Angels Cradle at St. Pauls Hospital, Vancouver BC, Canada

a sign at a hospital in Australia

a sign at a hospital in Australia

a safe surrender site in the US

a safe surrender site in the US

a baby box in Europe

a baby box in Europe

a little history

Baby hatches have existed in one form or another for centuries. The system was quite common in mediaeval times. From 1198 the first foundling wheels (ruota dei trovatelli) were used in Italy; Pope Innocent III decreed that these should be installed in homes for foundlings so that women could leave their child in secret instead of killing them, as this practice was clearly evident in the River Tiber.

In Hamburg, Germany, a Dutch merchant set up a wheel (Drehladen) in an orphanage in 1709. It closed after only five years in 1714 as the number of babies left there was too high for the orphanage to cope with financially. Other wheels are known to have existed in Kassel (1764) and Mainz (1811).

In France, foundling wheels (tours d'abandon, abandonment towers) were introduced by Saint Vincent de Paul who built the first foundling home in 1638 in Paris. Foundling wheels were legalised in an imperial decree of January 19, 1811, and at their height there were 251 in France, according to Anne Martin-Fugier, a writer on women's issues. They were in hospitals such as the Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés (Hospital for Foundling Children) in Paris. However, the number of children left there rose into the tens of thousands per year, as a result of the desperate economic situation at the time, and in 1863 they were closed down and replaced by "admissions offices" where mothers could give up their child anonymously but also received advice. The tours d'abandon were officially abolished in a law of June 27, 1904. Today in France, women are allowed to give birth anonymously in hospitals (accouchement sous X) and leave their baby there.

In Brazil and Portugal, foundling wheels (roda dos expostos , literally "wheel for exposed ones") were also used after Queen Mary I proclaimed on May 24, 1783 that all towns should have a foundling hospital. One example was the wheel installed at the Santa Casa de Misericordia hospital in São Paulo on July 2, 1825. This was taken out of use on June 5, 1949 , declared incompatible with the modern social system after five years' debate.

In Britain and Ireland, foundlings were brought up in orphanages financed by the Poor Tax. There were also homes for foundlings in London and Dublin. The foundling wheel in Dublin was taken out of use in 1826 when the Dublin hospital was closed because of the high death rate of children there.

The first modern baby hatch in Germany was installed in the Altona district of Hamburg on 2000-04-11 after a series of cases in 1999 where children were abandoned and found dead from exposure. By 2010, 38 babies had been left in the "Findelbaby" baby hatch in Hamburg, 14 of whom were reclaimed by their mothers.

Fifty U.S. states have created newborn safe haven or so-called Baby Moses laws to legally protect parents who abandon their children at sanctioned safe havens. The state laws differ in what is considered a safe haven. Some states include 911 responders as well as fire and police departments in the sanctioned safe haven list, and almost all include hospitals. The laws often specify that the children must be infants born anywhere from within the first 72 hours to up to 30 days. There are few statistics about child abandonment. In the U.S., the last time nationwide figures were collected on the topic, according to a 2005 University of Vermont study, was in 1998, when about 17,400 infants were reportedly illegally abandoned by being left in dangerous locations or in hospitals.

In Europe, the drop-off windows have names like "babyklappe" (baby slot) in Austria and Germany; "babyfenster" (baby window) in Switzerland; "babybox" in the Czech Republic; and "culle per vite" (cradles for life) in Italy.

In 2007 Japan's first baby hatch, Stork's Cradle, was opened at Catholic-run Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Scroll to Continue

In 2010 Malaysia opened its first baby hatch at an NGO OrphanCARE facility in Petaling Jaya.

In Canada, Vancouver's St. Paul’s Hospital opened up its Angel’s Cradle in May 2010. The Grey Nuns Community Hospital and the Misericoridia Community Hospital in Edmonton started similar programs in 2013.

Read more history

a sign at a safe haven drop off in Phoenix, AZ

a sign at a safe haven drop off in Phoenix, AZ

the controversy

Since child abandonment is a serious crime in many parts of the world, this form of abandonment is questioned by some.

When Japan's Jikei Hospital started its baby hatch, cabinet ministers were concerned that it would encourage people to abandon their babies.

In a 2003 report, the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute noted that the scant, mostly anecdotal, evidence available suggested the number of dangerous abandonments does not drop after legislation is introduced.

And in the seven years since that report was published, the limited evidence indicates “these laws are even more counterproductive than we’d expected,” Adam Pertman, the institute’s executive director, said.

The problem is that mothers who kill or discard their newborns in a dangerous way are unstable and panicked, not cogently thinking people who would seek out a safe-haven drop-off, said Mr. Pertman.

Those who do use the sites are likely women who would otherwise contact an adoption agency but have now been convinced to take an easier way out, he said. With counselling at an agency, they might even have decided to keep the baby; they would at least be ensuring that adoptive parents had access to the infant’s family medical background, something not possible with legal abandonment.

“Everybody thinks they have found an answer,” said Mr. Pertman. “It feels good, it’s intuitive, we can clap our hands and say ‘We’ve solved that one and move on.’ The problem is, we haven’t solved it.”

There are currently no studies that prove that the creation of baby hatches has reduced the rate of infanticide or infant abandonment.

Opponents argue that the anonymous drop off locations violate a child's right to know their biological parents' identities and could put the infant in medical jeopardy since doctors won't know the infant's medical history.

In 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called for a ban of the practice of using baby hatches in Europe. The committee said it violates Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says children must be able to identify their parent.

A member of the committee told BBC that baby boxes are a throwback to the past that send a "mistaken message" to pregnant women that they are right to abandon their babies.

The Angel's Cradle program at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital has faced criticism from some who say it encourages mothers to avoid official adoption procedures, but Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff who founded the program disagrees.

"I don't think we are trying to encourage it. I think we are really trying to provide an option that will prevent tragedy for the baby and the people who are really opposed to it. I think they are really frustrated with the idea of a mother giving up her child, but many times, that's really what be best for the baby, if they really don't have an environment where they can care for the baby.

Three months after opening, a two-day old baby was left in the bassinet at St. Paul's, accompanied by a paper listing the date of birth, ethnicity and family history. No other child has been left there since.


Mothers abandon their babies for a variety of reasons. Whatever they may be we hope these women realize that the baby hatch is there for them. It is something they should keep in mind when considering alternatives.

To abandon one's child is a difficult and sometimes complicated decision. And since I have never been through this experience I cannot give any advice on the matter.

So I'll end with this. Let's give baby hatches a chance and see what happens.



A bill passed this week by the Indiana House would set up emergency-monitored “baby boxes” – incubator-like stations – at select locations to give mothers another route to safely and confidentially give away unwanted babies.

Indiana’s measure, believed to be the first of its kind in the US, aims to give parents of unwanted newborns increased confidentiality outside of the state’s Safe Haven law, which is common across the United States for allowing parents to legally, anonymously give up their newborn babies at locations such as hospitals and fire stations without prosecution – as long as the baby is unharmed.

The baby box legislation was inspired by past instances in which abandoned babies were found in wooded areas or garbage dumpsters. The bill hopes to stave off any instances of infanticide that may result from an unwanted newborn.

read more

more to read

  • Malaysia offers 'baby hatch'
  • Victoria moves to protect newborns (in Australia)
  • Baby box becomes a phenomenon in Europe
  • ‘Safe Surrender’ And ‘Baby Hatch’ Programs Save Children’s Lives, There Should Be No Debate
  • The revival of 'baby boxes' for unwanted infants (in Canada)
  • Record 6 babies relinquished under Safe Haven law
  • Baby Turned Over at Des Moines Clinic Under Safe Haven Law
  • 6 babies dropped off at Arizona safe haven locations between April and October (2014), record number
  • Record number of newborns dropped off at safe haven sites this year
  • How to Surrender an Infant Under Safe Haven Laws
  • Indiana Could Become First State To Allow ‘Baby Boxes’ For Surrendering Newborns


Tranquilheart (author) from Canada on July 11, 2014:

I'm glad to meet caring people who support the baby hatch idea. I also wish it was more popular than it currently is. Thanks for commenting, Amber.

Amber on July 10, 2014:

I came here because I've been reading the news and seeing where mothers are killing their babies. It seems like it's been happening more often or perhaps I just notice it more. I was looking into the safe haven laws and discovered the baby hatch idea. I wish this was something we could start in the States. I just wonder if this would prevent violence or if these people who kill children will still do it. I wish I could do something more helpful than wishful thinking.

Related Articles