History of Baby Hatches

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A baby hatch is a place where people, typically the birth mothers, can safely and anonymously leave their babies, usually newborns. This concept can be dated back to the Middle Ages when it was known as the foundling wheel; a cylinder set upright in the outside wall of a building, sort of a revolving door. The infants abandoned at these wheels were referred to as foundlings. This concept was initially introduced as the “ruota degli espoti” at the Hospital of Marseilles in France in the year 1188.

The foundling wheel, or ruota, was introduced in Italy in the year 1198 by Pope Innocent III as he was distressed with the number of infants who were found drowned in the Tiber River. With the foundling wheels installed in churches and hospitals, women could leave their unwanted infants there to be cared for. 

The practise was then adopted throughout Europe. In Germany, the foundling wheel (Drehladen) was first placed in the wall of an orphanage in 1709. However, it only lasted for five years as the orphanage could not financially afford to care for the surging number of infants. 

The first foundling home was institutionalized in Paris by Father Vincent de Paul, a Roman Catholic Priest in 1638, and with it, the foundling wheels (tours d’abandon, abandonment wheel), which was legalized in 1811. The number of abandoned infants also surged and in 1863, France substituted the foundling wheels with admissions office as a place where mothers could give up their infants safely. It was abolished in 1904, and as of today, their policy allows women to give birth in hospitals and leave their infants there anonymously. 

In Ireland, foundlings were brought up in orphanages financed by the Poor Tax, with the first foundling wheel installed in the Foundling Hospital and Workhouses in 1730. However, it was ceased in 1826 when the hospital was closed due to the high mortality of children there.

The first home for foundlings in London was institutionalized in 1741, and the infants were also brought up in orphanages subsidized by the Poor Tax. These wheels were also established in other countries including Vatican City, Brazil, and Portugal.

These foundling wheels were discontinued in the late 19th century. The modern form of baby hatch emerged in the 1950s and until today, baby hatches can be found in most countries including Australia, Canada, Hungary, India, Russia, Netherlands, and Switzerland.

In Austria, the first baby hatch was introduced in Vienna in 2000. However, the use has been outnumbered as the law has given the right for women to give birth anonymously in hospitals since 2001.

In Belgium, the first baby hatch, Babyschuif, was set up in Antwerp by the association Moedors voor Moerders (Mothers for Mothers) in the year 2000, and it remains as the only baby hatch in Belgium.

The first baby hatch in the Czech Republic was set up in 2005, and between the first establishment until 2020, 78 “Babybox” were installed, saving a total of 214 children.

Baby hatches were used again in Germany in the year 2000. There were more than 90 “Babyklappe” in Germany in 2013, and the current number is unknown. After 8 weeks of being abandoned in the facility, the youth welfare must be called in. Closer to home, Japan opened its first baby hatch the “Konotori no Yurikago”, or “Storks’Cradle” in Jikei Hospital in 2006. The concept was adopted after Taiji Hasuda, who then became the Chairman of the hospital in 2013, went to Germany and observed their “Babyklappe.” Usually, the infants saved were raised in a baby shelter until the age of 3, wherein practice, they will be taken in by their real parents or foster parents by then.

In Malaysia, the first baby hatch was launched by OrphanCare Foundation in 2010. Currently, there are 3 baby hatches operated by the foundation, 8 baby hatches in collaboration with KPJ Hospitals nationwide, and 1 baby hatch in collaboration with Hospital An-Nur in Bangi. To date, OrphanCare has saved 450 infants via its baby hatches.

The concept of the baby hatch has been instituted for centuries. Be it foundling wheels, baby bins, baby hatch, or any other names that were given, the objective has always been the same – to save these innocent lives from being abandoned in unsafe places which may lead to the infants being harmed, or the worst left to die. Although this alternative may not fully prevent cases of baby abandonment, it did however give the chance at life to the ones saved, and it suffices to say, one baby saved is one less life lost.

By Nuurain Mohd Kharir

Sources and References:

2021, Baby hatches to reduce baby dumping cases in Malaysia, https://orphancare.org.my/baby-hatches-to-reduce-baby-dumping-cases-in-malaysia/

Harvey, I., 2017, “Foundling Wheels” were designed to provide a safe way to abandon unwanted babies, https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/05/09/foundling-wheels-were-designed-to-provide-a-safe-way-to-abandon-unwanted-babies/

Paolilo, P., Di Palma, F., & Picone,S., 2018, The “baby hatch” from history to the third millennium, https://jpnim.com/index.php/jpnim/article/view/090124

Cochrane, J., & Goh, L.M., 2013, Abandoned babies: the Malaysian ‘baby hatch’, https://bettercarenetwork.org/sites/default/files/Abandoned%20Babies%20-%20The%20Malaysian%20Baby%20Hatch.pdf

2013, ‘Stork’s Cradle’ – a safe haven for unwanted newborns, https://www.ucanews.com/news/storks-cradle-a-safe-haven-for-unwanted-newborns/67251#

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