• Germany's news in English

New law reignites debate over 'baby hatches'

AFP · 1 Jun 2013, 09:31

Published: 01 Jun 2013 09:31 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

At a Berlin clinic, a discreet path winds through springtime flowerbeds to a sign that simply directs visitors to the "Baby Crib" -- a steel hatch that opens onto a heated cot where an infant can be left.

"An alarm goes off for several seconds," says Gabriele Stangl of the Protestant Church-run Waldfriede hospital in the capital's leafy, residential Zehlendorf district.

"It takes two to three minutes for the nurses to come and get the baby, enough time so the mother can get away without being seen."

In the 13 years since the clinic set up the hatch -- known in Germany as the "Babyklappe" -- the alarm has sounded more than 20 times, especially lately.

"For two years we didn't have any, and during the last six months we had two in five days," Stangl told news agency AFP.

The babies tend to be between 24 and 30 hours old and are cared for by the hospital. They are passed on to an adoptive family unless the birth mother changes her mind within the first eight weeks.

Germany has around 100 baby hatches under a system thought to have been common in medieval Europe and through to the end of the 19th Century. It was reintroduced 14 years ago in Germany and has since been adopted by other countries ranging from Belgium to Japan.

The chief aim of the baby hatches is to give the most desperate of mothers an alternative to killing their babies or abandoning them in places where they will die.

While the system is accepted by the churches in Germany, there is no legal framework governing their use, and the method remains controversial.

The United Nations condemned it last year for flouting a child's right to know its origins.

Opponents also argue that the baby hatches have done nothing to bring down the number of newborns being killed every year in Germany.

According to the non-governmental organisation Terre des Hommes, which is campaigning against the baby hatch, 313 newborns were found dead in Germany between 1999 and the end of last year.

Just recently in Berlin the bodies of two babies were discovered -- one abandoned in a plastic bag in a wooded area, the other in a public clothes recycling bin.

Terre des Hommes argues that women driven to killing their baby at birth generally suffer psychological conditions so severe that they are unlikely to try and find a baby hatch.

In the face of the UN condemnation as well as criticism from Germany's ethics committee, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has adopted draft legislation to find another solution.

The idea is to allow women to give birth without publicly revealing their identity -- something about 130 German hospitals already practise despite a law stipulating that midwives register the mother's name.

The new bill, which must still be voted on by lawmakers, would provide a legal framework to guarantee birth confidentially.

Story continues below…

However, the mother's personal data would be kept for 16 years, after which the child would have the right to the information, which some psychologists see as crucial for their emotional wellbeing.

Conservative lawmaker Ingrid Fischbach said she believed the new legislation takes into account both "the mother's desire for anonymity and the right of the child to know its origins".

But supporters of the baby hatch see things differently.

"I believe the right to life takes precedence over the right to know where you came from," Stangl said.

"I don't think a child has to fall into a psychological hole simply because it doesn't know where it comes from. When it grows up in an adoptive family that tells it the truth and gives it lots of love, it can become a very stable human being, despite everything."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

Hostility towards minorities 'widespread in Bavaria'
A village in southern Bavaria. Photo: DPA.

Hate and hostility towards groups deemed to be different are not just sentiments felt by fringe extremists, a new report on Bavaria shows.

Hated RB Leipzig emerge as shock challengers to Bayern
RB Leipzig. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig's remarkable unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season has seen them suddenly emerge at the head of the pack chasing reigning champions and league leaders Bayern Munich.

Munich taxi driver in hospital after attack by British tourists
Photo: DPA

A taxi driver had to be hospitalized in Munich on Monday evening after three British tourists refused to pay their fare and then attacked him.

German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Four Ku Klux Klan groups active in Germany, says govt
An American member of the KKK at a gathering in Georgia. Photo: EPA.

The German government estimates that there are four Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups currently active in the country, according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Tuesday.

Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd