Trigger warning: This story may be difficult for some.
It’s very difficult to understand how any new parent could abandon their own baby, but this is not something we are here to understand or judge. We do not know the reasons why and we don’t need to. What we do know is this: every child deserves the love and care of someone.
This is why “baby mailboxes” exist. Yes, it’s not an ideal situation for anyone, but it is also giving babies who may not survive or may not be given the love and care they need, another chance to find a happy home.
And this is what matters the most.
In North America and across Europe these baby mailboxes are either called Baby Boxes or Safe Haven Boxes.
A baby box allows mothers in crisis to surrender their babies anonymously, securely and safely. It works similar to a ‘mailbox’.
Baby mailboxes aim to reduce the risk of infant abandonment
A Baby Box is installed on an exterior wall of a designated fire station or hospital. It has an exterior door that automatically sets off a silent alarm when the door is open. The baby is then placed in the bassinette inside, at which point a second silent alarm sounds. Once the door is closed, it locks and cannot be opened again to keep the baby safe.
Meanwhile, on the inside of the baby box at the hospital or fire station, an interior door allows medical staff to secure the surrendered newborn from the inside, at which point they are taken directly to Emergency for a medical check.
It’s so heartbreaking to think that something like this has to exist but it does. Many women do not become mothers by choice and many others simply do not have the resources, environment or support to take this on.
A safe haven for infants
Sadly, what can happen in these situations is a baby can be abandoned in a public place or killed by the parent. Thousands of babies are also simply left in the maternity ward or dumped outside the hospital.
It’s awful, we know. But it happens. Over and over again, not just overseas but in Australia too.
While the numbers are not entirely accurate, an estimated 10 babies are found abandoned in Australia each year.
This includes a newborn baby found in a box outside of a medical centre in Perth in 2019 as well as infant Lily Grace who was found buried in a sand dune in NSW in 2014.
It also includes a newborn who was found abandoned on the doorstep of a home in New South Wales with a note saying, “please take care of my baby, I’m 14-years-old and if my parents know they will kill me.”
Baby safe havens around the world
Baby Boxes are now located across the world including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Polan, Portugal, Slovakia, South Korea, Canada, Japan, France and the United States.
Some are governed by the Safe Haven Laws which allow parents to hand over their babies without risk of prosecution by authorities. Under Australian laws, child abandonment is a crime that can attract penalties that range from five to seven years’ imprisonment.
Safe Haven Boxes also provide assurance that their newborn will be cared for, something that most parents desperately want but just don’t know how to provide themselves.
Over 3,300 babies have been surrendered via safe haven laws in the United States alone. Remember, this is just one country.
What about Australia?
There have been calls for Australia to look into safe haven laws for years and years. One politician who has been campaigning for baby safe havens is Labor Senator for Tasmania Helen Polley. She has a Facebook page dedicated to the cause and told the media:
We don’t live in a perfect world. If there’s an option between some poor woman — who would have to be desperate [to abandon her baby] — if it means that child living, growing up, being nurtured by someone else as opposed to being left abandoned and dying, I don’t think there’s any debate there.”
It’s hard to imagine why any mother would need to use a Baby Box but remember, we don’t know everyone’s full story.
We don’t have the right to judge but we also shouldn’t turn a blind eye. What we should be doing is providing a solution that ensures the best scenario for the infant and one that offers compassion and understanding, especially in a situation of extreme desperation.