Hospitals “baby box” still controversial
KUMAMOTO–Controversial when it started five years ago, the Jikei Hospital’s “Akachan Post” (Baby box) remains a source for critics, despite its successful track record for allowing unwanted babies to get new homes.
The hospital in Kumamoto Prefecture opened the Akachan Post on May 10, 2007, in which parents can anonymously place their babies they cannot raise by themselves.
A total of 81 babies were placed into the box, named “Konotori no Yurikago” (Stork’s cradle), by September 2011.
Of these, 37 are currently living with new families as adopted children or under the care of foster patents, while 27 others have been placed in child-care facilities. The remaining 17 are being raised by their real parents or others, according to the Kumamoto city government.
The service remains a source of debate. Critics say that it deprives children of the chance to know who their real parents are. They also wonder if it is an appropriate route for unwanted babies to be sent through, and for society as a whole to allow it.
However, the hospital said it will continue to allow parents to put their babies in the box anonymously.
“The right to know who their real parents are is important,” said Yukiko Tajiri, head of the nurses’ section of the hospital.
“But there are babies who may have been abandoned and died unless their parents can put them in the box anonymously. “Anonymity is necessary to save the babies. Though it looks like the parents easily put their babies in the box, they are also tormented by having to do so.”
In one success story, in the house of a married couple in their late 30s, a 2-year-old boy is actively walking around. His favorite television show is a children’s program in which the good guys fight and defeat the bad guys. Imitating the good guys, he holds a stick and wields it like a sword. The couple is watching him happily.
The boy was put in the Akachan Post soon after he was born. When he was around 11 months old, the couple adopted him.
The mother had experienced recurrent miscarriages. Wanting a child desperately, they knew that an adoption agency was looking for a couple to adopt the boy. They applied to the organization for his adoption.
When the couple met the baby for the first time at a home for infants, they were told that he had been placed in the Akachan Post. At that time, they also knew that his real parents were facing circumstances in which they could not raise him themselves.
Though the couple was surprised to hear that, they decided to adopt him after visiting him for a month, thinking that the baby was not responsible for such circumstances.
In their house, the couple slept with him for the first time and responded to the baby’s repeated cries at night. They also took the boy on trips. Through those experiences, the Akachan Post baby became a loving son for them.
Imagining the difficulties of his real mother who had placed the baby in the Akachan Post immediately after he was born, the couple still feels pity.
“Thank you for sparing the life of this child,” the wife said she wants to tell her. “We will accept the job of offering to this boy the affection you should have offered.”
The couple is now praying that his real mother will recover and become happy.
The couple thinks that in the future, they should tell their son that they are not his real parents, although they feel anxious about doing so. However, they are going to tell him that the Akachan Post was set up to save the lives of babies, and that his real mother put him in the box to save his life.
The couple says that the Akachan Post is necessary in today’s society and hopes that it can be an accepted alternative for unwanted children.
Since the Akachan Post was set up five years ago, however, there has been criticism that putting babies in the box anonymously is depriving the babies of their right to know who their real parents are.
The parents of 67 of the 81 babies have been found. Those of the remaining 14 babies have yet to be located.
A former staff member of a child counseling center, who had been working for the protection of babies put in the box for several years, searched for their parents to make it possible for them to know who their real parents are.
“I wanted to look for them by any means,” the former staff member said.
According to reports revealed in a meeting of a Kumamoto city government’s committee specializing in the issue, some of the real parents put their babies in the box for selfish reasons, such as jobs or going abroad to study.
“Some parents come to the box because they can abandon their babies anonymously. We can say that the babies were separated from their parents because there is the Akachan Post,” the former staff member said. “We also have to pay attention to the fact that about 10 percent of the babies placed in the box are children with disabilities.”
Jikei Hospital is asking parents to consult its staff before putting their babies in the box. It is making the request to avoid a situation in which the parents of the babies are not known. The hospital is also putting in the unmanned box a letter asking parents to give their names to its staff.