Desperate mothers are being urged to drop their unwanted babies through hatches at hospitals in Germany in an effort to halt a spate of infanticides that has shocked the country.
Already this year there have been 23 infant deaths, many of them beaten or strangled by their mothers before being dumped on wasteland and in dustbins.
City councils have launched an advertising campaign to highlight the problem and to promote greater use of what are being called Baby-Klappe hatches that allow women to drop off their babies to be found and cared for without having to give their names. Posters were being put up in cities and towns across Germany yesterday, urging women to make use of the Baby-Klappe, with the slogan “Before babies land in the rubbish bin . . .”
The campaign has already drawn criticism from senior clergymen and from charities, including Caritas, who argue that it could actively encourage mothers to dump their children. But there is agreement that something must be done to address what appears to be an infanticide epidemic.
Professor Mechthild Neises, head of the Psychosomatic Unit at the Medical University in Hanover, agreed: “Such women have usually lied about their pregnancy for so long that they have stopped believing that they are actually pregnant. When the baby suddenly arrives, they panic and just want to get rid of it.”
But the baby-drops, modeled on foundling wheels that were first used in Italy in medieval times, are not seen as the final antidote to these killings. “Often the mother is under such psychological pressure that she doesn’t even register alternatives like the Baby-Klappe,” Dr Neises said.
But they do offer an alternative for some mothers. The drop-off point is usually hidden from view, shielded by trees and away from security cameras. The baby is put on to a tray that slides through a hole in the wall and is gently lowered into a heated cot. An alarm bell alerts nursing staff — but only after the mother has been given sufficient time to make a getaway. The baby can be reclaimed, usually up to three months later, should the mother change her mind.
In Berlin the posters, giving full addresses and phone numbers of three hospitals with baby-drops, are sponsored by Hans Wall, a businessman whose company maintains bus shelters and public lavatories. A baby was dumped in one of his shelters on a cold night last January. He became its godfather and will finance its education.
Political support for the campaign has come from the Green party, but the government is more wary, fearing legal problems. On occasions children with severe disabilities or babies aged over 3 months have been dumped: both in breach of the law.
“There are serious legal and professional arguments against baby-drops,” a government spokeswoman said. “But we cannot ignore the fact that they can save lives.”
Italy recently re-introduced this same concept at a few hospitals in a lower income areas. I applaud these countries for standing up and doing something about this issue. It has obviously become an epidemic and these moms need safe places to bring their babies if they are feeling overwhelmed.