• Kyodo

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The hospital operating the controversial baby hatch in Kumamoto Prefecture received a surprise last week when a boy 3 or 4 years old was reportedly put inside the day it opened, informed sources said Tuesday.

The hatch, Japan’s first, was installed by Jikei Hospital to help save the lives of unwanted babies, which can be dropped off anonymously and put up for adoption.

According to the sources, the boy appears in good shape and can say that he was brought there by his father from Fukuoka Prefecture.

The private hospital refused to confirm that a boy was left in the baby hatch.

“Whether it is true or not, I cannot make any comment as one engaged in medical services,” said Taiji Hasuda, president of the company that runs the hospital.

Amid all the fuss over the controversial contraption, the toddler was an unexpected find. The hatch, designed for newborns, is equipped with an incubator and sounds an alarm when it is opened. Babies left there will be cared for at the hospital for about a week before they are handed over to nursing homes.

The report about the toddler dismayed a senior health ministry official. If his parents do not come forward, he will be raised at a child welfare center or adopted.

The sources said the hospital has notified the Kumamoto Prefectural Police and that the police are investigating the case as parental abandonment and are trying to identify the father.

A senior National Police Agency official said, however, that the father may be in the clear as far as the law is concerned.

“As long as the place where the child was left behind poses no threat to life, it will not be a case of parental abandonment,” the official said.

The hospital activated the hatch at noon Thursday. According to the sources, the boy was brought there at around 3 p.m. that day. The boy can say his name and that he was brought there from Fukuoka Prefecture, they said.

The baby hatch has been praised as a way to save unwanted babies, but critics, including top government officials, say it encourages people to abandon their children too easily.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized the baby hatch earlier this month and said that allowing parents to abandon their babies anonymously should not be tolerated. Health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa said on Tuesday that the incident with the baby hatch should never have happened.

The incubator contains a note for those leaving their babies, urging them to contact hospital staff if they change their mind and wish to raise the baby. They can also talk to hospital staff via intercom, the hospital said.

Kumamoto Mayor Seishi Koyama said the city has not changed its stance on the baby hatch plan. However, he stressed that people having trouble raising children should first consult city officials about their problems.

Jun Saimura, a senior researcher at the Japan Child and Family Research Institute, said he thinks the boy was dropped off at the hospital because people tend to feel that it’s difficult to talk to municipal governments or public child consultation centers.

“But child consultation centers are where professional staff can give advice to parents on how best to raise children who they cannot raise,” he said. “Parents should not be afraid to talk.”

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