A Catholic hospital in Kumamoto disclosed a plan in November to set up a “baby hatch” in which women or parents could anonymously leave newborn babies. The hospital was especially thinking of women in desperate situations. The Kumamoto municipal government approved Jikei Hospital’s plan in early April. Last week, the hospital started operating the drop-off. On the first day of operation, an unexpected thing happened: A 3-year-old boy was left in the drop-off.

The baby was able to tell hospital workers his name and age. From what he says, it is believed that his father brought him to the hospital from Fukuoka Prefecture. When announced, the baby hatch plan caused controversy. Opposing the plan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “I strongly resist the idea of creating a facility where one can anonymously leave babies.”

The father in this case may be desperate, or may have just taken advantage of the baby hatch to shirk his duty as a parent. Whatever the real situation is, it must be understood that the hospital, which does not carry out abortions, has intended that the facility serve as the last recourse for parents.

The hospital treats the baby hatch as a “symbol” of a place where parents facing difficulties can easily consult with and get advice from experts. An intercom is installed beside the baby hatch so that those who are leaving their babies can talk to hospital staff. A note is left inside the baby hatch urging them to contact hospital staff if they change their mind.

After learning of the 3-year-old boy, Mr. Abe urged people having difficulty raising their children to contact and get advice from child welfare centers and other similar services. He is correct in doing so. But the central and local government at least should ponder whether they have done enough to disseminate information on such services.

More important is whether administrative authorities are really eager to help people in difficulty. Only when people receive a clear message about the authorities’ eagerness will they refrain from relying on the baby hatch.

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