In fairy tales, Bible stories and Greek myths, babies are dropped off on doorsteps (and/or rivers, etc) all of the time, often conveniently landing in the waiting arms of couples who always longed for a child of their very own. But in Europe, "baby hatches" are a real thing — and not everyone is on board.

According to the UN, almost 200 baby hatches — heated incubators that automatically ring when a baby is placed inside — have been set up across Europe over the past decade, thanks to religious groups and conservative politicians who see baby boxes as a way to convince mothers that they don't have to consider abortion. It's typically illegal to abandon a child in public, but any parent who anonymously leaves a newborn inside a hatch receives legal immunity, since the act is seen as a declaration of abandonment; if the family does not return to request the baby in the next six weeks, the child is automatically put up for adoption. More than 400 European children have been left in the hatches since 2000.

Supporters say baby boxes are beneficial because fewer families are killing unwanted newborns at birth, and that the anonymity is no different than the way sperm donation works. But critics, such as UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, say the hatches haven't actually done anything to lower infanticide statistics, and that their existence makes the government feel like it's helping solve a problem when it should be focusing on free contraception or counseling for women in need.

"...the incubator programme, though indirectly, sends out the mistaken message to pregnant women in crisis that they are right to continue with hiding their pregnancies, giving birth under uncontrolled circumstances, and then abandoning their babies anonymously, losing the possibility to connect with them again," said Maria Herczog, a sociologist and member of the UN Children's Rights Committee who favors an anonymous childbirth system at hospitals that would allow mothers and children to connect later on in life. "The baby hatch is an easy and comfortable 'solution' for the state, instead of providing a comprehensive set of policies, services to prevent abandonment. Currently the system is serving first and foremost the interest of the prospective adoptive parents, who are usually well situated middle-class families, while at the same time indirectly assumes that these birth mothers are irresponsible and unsuitable for motherhood."

You might think it's somewhat safe to "assume" a mother is unprepared for (or uninterested in) motherhood if she leaves her baby in a hatch. But studies show it's usually men or relatives who leave babies in hatches, which raises questions "about the mother's whereabouts and whether she has consented to giving up her baby," said one expert. "You also have to ask whether an anonymous drop allows the authorities to check whether there's a chance for the baby to remain with its family in the care of other relatives."


The UN argument comes down to this: baby hatches violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which says the state has a "duty to respect the child's right to maintain personal relations with his or her parent" even if they are separated from them. And if the hatches don't actually have any impact on infanticide rates, as studies have proven, it seems like they're more of a controversial distraction than any sort of solution.

Spread of 'baby boxes' in Europe alarms United Nations [Guardian]