Need This New Innovation: The Revolving Cradle, A Drop Box For Unwanted Infants
The baby drop box, revolving cradle, baby hatch, or stork's cradle is actually something that had been around in one form or another for many centuries. They were very popular during the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries when they were called foundling wheels. The custom has been coming back in the past few years and bringing with it controversy over making it "too easy" for women to abandon their children.
The concept is that it allows parents, mainly women, to be able to anonymously leave their babies in a safe haven. The practice has been making a comeback, especially in countries where the practice of abandoning babies on the streets has become way too common.
In South Korea, where the practice is steeped in history, a pastor, Lee Jong-Rak, and his wife have put a baby "drop box" into the wall of their home. The small door, or "hatch," has been put in where parents can open it easily and place their baby safely inside.
Lee's journey to save unwanted children began with his own disabled son, who suffers from cerebral palsy. His dedication became known and a woman dying in the hospital begged him to take her disabled daughter. He just kept going from there.
Hundreds of children are abandoned on the street of Seoul every year due to a number of cultural constructs that make it difficult for parents to keep their children. There is still a heavy prejudice against women who have children outside of marriage, as well as their babies. Children of mixed-race parents face a difficult life. Then there are the families that cannot afford a child, or another child. Many of the children left in Lee's drop box are also disabled, coming from parents who are unable or unwilling to care for them.
Many years ago "revolving cradles" were operated by some Buddhist monasteries. Special places at the outskirts of the monasteries would be set up for the placement of unwanted babies. The mother or father would leave the child and then ring a bell so that the monks would know that there was a child in need of help. One of the main ideas is for the parent or parents to remain anonymous.
In the television show M*A*S*H, season 8, episode 15, the characters are the recipients of an abandoned child that had been fathered by an American soldier with a Korean woman. The mixed race of the child made her future impossible, not to mention the life of the child. After efforts to get the child to the U.S. fail, they are gravely put in the position of needing to leave the baby in just such a revolving cradle. It is a sobering episode.
Lee's efforts are sparking a great deal of controversy. One of the criticisms of this approach is that it makes it too easy for young mothers to abandon their babies. While some cite concern for the mothers not getting the emotional and mental support they need, others take a moral high ground that they are shirking the responsibility for their actions.
With the creation of new adoption laws in South Korea, Lee has had a major upswing in receiving abandoned babies. There it is now harder than ever for children to be adopted due to the aim of these laws to reduce the rate of adoptions from outside the country. All babies are required to be registered upon birth. That rarely happens with the abandoned children and they end up virtually stateless without legal existence.
Lee says that before the new laws he would receive just a few children a month. Now he is seeing about 18 a month come in. He does what he can to get every child to someplace safe, be it an orphanage or a foster home. He also puts his idea into practice in his own home. Lee and his wife are raising 18 children themselves, many of them disabled.
These types of boxes or cradles exist in many different countries and are there to help alleviate a number of social issues that exist in different countries. For example, in Pakistan they are used, in part, to reduce the level of infanticide directed at baby girls.
There are no baby boxes as such in the U.S., however all states have a "safe haven" law in which parents may drop off newborns in certain places designated as havens -- such as hospitals or fire stations. Certainly the health and safety of a child is more important than some of these detractions.
Baby boxes are in use in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, and Switzerland. For more information on the practice in Japan, click here.
This seems to be an old idea that has not only been reinvented, but has a place in modern society, even if there are still issues that need to be ironed out.
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Laurie Kay Olson
Clever Problem Solvers