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Mayor OK’s ‘baby hatch’ at Japan church hospital

A city in southern Japan has approved plans for the country’s first "baby hatch", or "baby post", as it is known at a local Roman Catholic hospital, where parents can drop off unwanted infants anonymously, as is already the case at similar European institutions.

"We have approved the plan by the hospital," the mayor of Kumamoto, Seishi Koyama, said on 5 April. He added, "There is no legal basis to say a ‘baby hatch’ violates any existing law."

But when the city government gave the go-ahead to Jikei Hospital to set up a place where unwanted newly-born babies could be dropped off, there were howls of criticism that it would encourage child abuse and abandonment.

Supporting the new venture, Mayor Koyama said, "We want the hospital to use the ‘baby post’ appropriately, and keep in mind that the children’s safety should be secured, the counselling function [of the hospital] be strengthened, and the hospital should work in cooperation with public counselling organizations."

The concept of the "baby post" came from what are known as "babyklappe", or "babyfenster", in Germany. These originated in medieval Europe and were revived late in the 20th century.

Staff said the "baby hatch" at the Jikei Hospital would be called "the cradle of storks", and that it would be installed in the lobby like a post box.

"Life is precious. We just want to save the precious lives of babies," explained a member of the hospital staff, who spoke anonymously, adding, "The German ‘baby posts’ were a last-ditch measure to protect the lives of infants."

Speaking in support of the new facility, Kumamoto prefecture governor, Yoshiko Shiotani, explained, "The hospital set up [the ‘baby post’] because of a desire to save babies’ lives." She added, "This is a last resort and not for casually leaving babies."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, who has advocated a return to "family values" in Japan, has opposed the plan because he says it discourages parental responsibility, although his government has not found any legal grounds to stop it.

"I personally don’t think it’s permissible for a father or mother to abandon a baby anonymously. The government will not allow this to become the general norm," Abe was quoted as saying after the Kumamoto decision.

(c) Ecumenical News International