There are some 80 such Babyklappen across the nation, set up to provide parents with a safe and legal way to surrender newborn infants for adoption. The idea, which dates back to medieval Catholic churches, was instituted in Hamburg by the Sternipark charity organisation on April 8, 2000 to help prevent infanticide in reaction to the discovery of a dead infant at a recycling centre.
“If we save even one child, our work has been worth it,” leader of the Sternipark project Findelbaby Leila Moyisch told news agency DPA.
Thirty-eight babies have been left in the organisation's two baby hatches since 2000. Of these, 14 mothers have returned to reclaim their children, and the number of abandoned or killed babies has dropped in the city, Moyisch said.
The organisation's motto is: “No questions, no witnesses, no police.”
But critics say that the presence of baby hatches has not actually reduced infanticide in Germany and takes away a child's right to know its origins.
“If you take a sober look, the number has not gone down nationwide,” said Michael Heuer, spokesperson for the German arm of child rights organisation Terre des Hommes.
An estimated 30 to 40 babies die each year in Germany due to abandonment or infanticide. This number is believed to be relatively constant, though exact numbers are hard to define because infanticide no longer appears as an offence in the country's criminal statistics.
“Baby hatches seem to be a choice that has not reached its target group,” said Heuer, explaining that most women who kill their infants are acting out of panic and would not make the rational decision to safely deposit their child at a nearby hospital.
President of Germany's DKSB children's protection federation Heinz Hilgers said he favoured closing the baby hatches “in principle,” if something “practical” were to take their place.
“We want lawmakers to make the so-called anonymous birth possible,” he said.
But Moyisch of Hamburg's Sternipark organisation argued that the life of a child is more important than their family history or ethical questions.
“The right to life comes before the right to heritage,” she said.