2012: The German babywiege, or “baby box,” is making a comeback in Western Europe. A hatch attached to hospitals and orphanages, the baby box is designed to give needy mothers of newborns a safe space to leave the infants should they not wish to parent. Some hail the baby box as an important service for women and children, while others are concerned about what it might mean for infants. The BBC reports:
One of the arguments made by those who condemn the system is that it may well be men who are giving the baby away, dumping him or her seems too hard a word. The critics say that baby boxes may be used by unscrupulous fathers or even controllers of prostitutes to put pressure on mothers to dispose of an unwanted baby.
The psychologist, Kevin Browne of Nottingham University told the BBC: “Studies in Hungary show that it's not necessarily mothers who place babies in these boxes—that it's relatives, pimps, step-fathers, fathers.
“Therefore, the big question is: are these baby boxes upholding women's rights, and has the mother of that child consented to the baby being placed in the baby box?”
Professor Browne continued: “The baby hatch is so anonymous, and so removed from the availability of counseling, that it creates a damage and a danger to the mother and child.”
1198: The baby box has its origins in medieval Europe, when religious organizations and individual clergy took steps to prevent infanticide by unwed mothers. A magazine from the early 1900s looks back at the phenomenon:
At Rome, Innocent III, in 1198, when rebuilding and enlarging the great hospital of Santo Spirito, allotted a part of it to the reception of foundlings, several infants having been found drowned in the Tiber about that time. As such establishments were necessarily designed to work secretly, certain precautions were adopted in their management, from which may be presumed to have arisen the perversions which have been productive of much evil not intended by their originators. It was thought that by providing a place where mothers might deposit their illegitimate children in safety, without being subject to any inquiry or exposure, the frequent recurrence of the crime of child-murder would be prevented.
For this purpose a turning-box was fixed in an opening of the wall in a retired part of the building, in which the child could be deposited by the mother in the night, and a bell being rung at the same time, the watch inside turned the box and took out the infant, from which that moment was placed under the protection of the institution, was nursed and educated, and afterward apprenticed to some trade or profession.
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