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Kumamoto ‘baby hatch’ accepted 125 babies over nine years since launch

Kyodo

The controversial “baby hatch” set up at a Kumamoto hospital in 2007 to enable people to leave infants anonymously took in a total of 125 babies over nine years through March last year.

Ahead of its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, Taiji Hasuda, president of Jikei Hospital in the city of Kumamoto, said Tuesday that his hospital played a role in saving the lives of babies through the program.

“We began this program to allow people who do not want their (pregnancy and delivery) to be known to feel safe in entrusting their babies,” he said at a news conference in the city.

The hospital installed the hatch, called “konotori no yurikago” (the cradle of the stork), after studying similar systems in other nations, including Germany. It is the only such facility in Japan.

The May 2007 launch sparked controversy, with advocates calling it a “last resort” to save lives and opponents regarding it as giving the green light to parents abandoning their children.

The government at the time also distanced itself from the program, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his short-lived first stint in office, saying it made him feel “very awkward.”

Of the 125 babies left at the hatch, 104 were newborns less than 1 month old and 14 less than 1 year old, while seven were older infants, according to the city government, which reviewed the program.

As of March 2014, 30 children had been sent to orphanages and other facilities, 29 adopted, 19 left to foster parents and 18 returned to their families, with the remaining five classified as “other cases,” according to a review of cases for 101 children left at the hospital.

The city government report found that at least 46 percent of the 125 babies left at the hatch by March last year had been born at places other than medical institutions, with 53 babies delivered at home and four in cars. In some cases, mothers delivered babies on their own and cut their umbilical cords with scissors.

As to why parents left their children at the Kumamoto hospital, economic hardship was cited in 32 cases, childbirth outside of wedlock in 27 cases, and fear of how they may be viewed by others and family registry issues in 24 cases, according to the report, which allowed multiple answers.

The report showed that women in their 20s accounted for 36 percent of users of the hatch, followed by 22 percent who were in their 30s. Twelve percent were teenage girls.

The city plans to announce how many babies were left at the hospital in the year ending this past March, the 10th year of the program, later this month.

Meanwhile, a nonprofit group announced it would be giving up its plan to establish what would have been a second baby hatch at a maternity center in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, because the medical institution was unable to secure a doctor on duty at all times as requested by the city, a city official said Tuesday.

The group, called “konotori no yurikago in Kansai,” plans to explore other ways to save the lives of babies, such as by setting up a baby hatch at other hospitals or cooperating with associations that support child adoption.