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Baby Boxes: The Heaviest Boxes in the World

Christmas is coming at the end of this semester. It is not merely the happiest time to prepare for the upcoming year with family, friends, or lovers, but also the warmest time when people actively participate in charities for neighbors in need. Among these charities, there is a helping hand for the babies that are abandoned as soon as they are born, which is called a baby box. A baby box is a means of helping abandoned babies to grow up to be healthy members of our society, and there are numerous baby boxes in the world including in Korea. In this regard, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) explains what a baby box is, the functions and concerns of it, and emphasizes its necessity by interviewing Pastor Lee Jong-rak who operates the first baby box in Korea.

What Is a Baby Box?

Definition and Origin

A baby box, also known as a baby hatch, is a box-shaped facility which lets parents that feel they are not able to raise their baby due to various circumstances leave their babies inside. Through baby boxes, parents can entrust their babies to better environments rather than abandoning them in worse places. Therefore, baby boxes are directly linked to the life and safety of the babies. Usually being the size of an incubator, baby boxes have internal temperature control systems, and are equipped with alarm systems to quickly alert the keepers that there are abandoned babies inside.

The origin of the baby box is a foundling wheel, which was installed in abbeys or orphanages of medieval Europe. When parents who could not raise a baby put him or her in the box attached to the foundling wheel and rang the bell, the person inside the abbey or orphanage came out and rotated the box to receive the baby. It, however, became extinct in the late 19th century. A modern form of a baby box first appeared in South Africa in 1999. A year later, it was also installed in Germany and began to spread around the world, especially in Europe. Baby boxes started to be installed not only in Germany, but also in well-known welfare states such as the United Kingdom (UK), Japan, France, and Poland. In particular, Germany is now operating 99 baby boxes nationwide and helps prevent the misery caused by the abandonment of a baby.

lexistrauss.com/ A Foundling Wheel

Why Baby Boxes Exist in Korea

There are two reasons for the appearance of baby boxes in Korea. First, babies with disabilities are often deserted. Some parents abandon babies born with disabilities, since they have to suffer from financial burdens to raise them. In fact, according to Professor Kim Kyung-mi of the School of Social Welfare at Soongsil University, it costs 1.5 times more to raise disabled children than non-disabled children. Moreover, the increase in the number of unmarried parents is another reason for domestic baby boxes. According to the 2015 population and housing census, the number of children from unmarried parents was 42,000. Abandonment of these babies is continually increasing, and this often results in threats of safety to the lives of these babies. Last year, for example, one unmarried mother abandoned her infant in the ceiling of a motel, and the infant eventually died.

Due to circumstances like these, a baby box was installed in Korea to save the lives of abandoned babies. Currently, two baby boxes are operating in Seoul and Gunpo. In 2009, the first baby box in Korea was introduced at the Jusarang Community Church in Seoul. After that, in 2014, a second baby box was installed at the Newcanaan Church in Gunpo. Until now, the number of babies who have passed through the domestic baby boxes has exceeded 1,200. Most of them are either sent to orphanages or adopted. A few of them are eventually taken back by their biological parents who once abandoned them.

ohmynews.com/ The First Domestic Baby Box in Seoul

Functions and Concerns of Baby Boxes

Functions of Baby Boxes

① Compensating for the Loopholes of the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption In Korea, social infrastructures including support for unmarried parents are still insufficient. In these situations, a baby box is one of the best ways to save the lives of babies, who are usually threatened with abandonment. It has increasingly saved the lives of abandoned babies, especially since the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption was revised. The current act changed the report adoption system into a permit system, making birth registration mandatory. Birth registration can be only made by biological mothers, so they often choose to abandon their babies rather than getting them adopted. In fact, although the mothers want to get their baby adopted

and have them raised in better environments, they are reluctant to go through the birth registration process of their babies because it leaves them with an official record which certifies that they are unmarried mothers. Actually, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), the infant abandonment rate increased four times as of 2016 after the revision of the current act. Fortunately, the baby box plays a significant role in saving these abandoned infants. Statistics from MOHW show that the infant mortality rate has decreased since the operation of the baby boxes, from 6.0 to 2.6.

② Reducing the Number of Babies Abandoned Due to a Lack of Orphanages In addition, Korea has few orphanages, where abandoned babies can be entrusted to and raised. The current orphanages, however, are already full of children and cannot take care of more babies. It is also almost impossible for babies with disabilities, who require long-term treatment, to be entrusted to the orphanages.

As a result, these lack of orphanages leads to the abandonment of babies. In these situations, baby boxes can encourage parents to use these boxes, which ensure the safety of the babies. Without baby boxes, parents who could not find any orphanages for their baby often abandon the babies in dangerous environments. Baby boxes are saving these babies who might have been abandoned in the past when baby boxes did not exist.

Concerns of Baby Boxes

Some insist that there is no legality on the domestic baby boxes, which let parents abandon their babies more easily than before. In other words, they claim that baby boxes are illegal facilities, which help to relieve the guilt of parents and ultimately make it easier for them to abandon their babies. It is, however, legal for the parents to put their babies into the baby box. According to article 272 of the Criminal Act, the criteria to decide if a certain action is considered abandoning a baby or not depends on whether the parents abandon and harm their baby on purpose. Regarding this, putting a baby into a baby box does not conform to the article, since the parents have the intention to save the baby’s life. For this reason, police have never punished someone for the use of a baby box. As in Korea, other countries also do not punish those who use baby boxes. The Safe Haven Law in the United States (US), for example, guarantees the anonymity of the biological parents and extenuates abandoning babies to safe environments under certain conditions, including baby boxes.

On the ethical side, there is also the opinion that the use of baby boxes is nothing more than “an act of abandoning babies.” There is, however, no proven correlation between the existence of baby boxes and the number of deserted babies yet, and many countries are still conducting studies to identify this relationship. It, therefore, seems unreasonable to argue that baby boxes are immoral since they encourage the abandonment of babies.

Interview with Pastor Lee Jong-rak

Pastor Lee Jong-rak of Jusarang Community Church is the one who introduced the first baby box in Korea. The SKT interviewed him to help Kingos to better understand about baby boxes.

Q1. What made you introduce the first baby box in Korea and run it? Did you have any related experience?

Before the emergence of baby boxes, a lot of babies were abandoned to die even in places like trash bins, toilets, on the street, or under a bridge. I thought it was pitiful but could not offer any practical help to these deserted babies. In the spring of 2007, however, one experience completely changed me. Due to the last cold snap, the weather of the day was quite cold, and suddenly I got a phone call from somebody at 3:20 AM. She said that she could not raise her baby, so she put the baby in front of the gate of my house. As soon as I hung up the phone, I went out to the gate and found a fish box. Inside it, there was an infant, who could not breathe well. The infant’s temperature was so low it was as if I was touching a corpse. After that experience, I designed the baby box and started to operate it.

Q2. Through the baby box, how do you save abandoned babies? Are there any other functions of the baby box?

The baby box is 45cm wide, 70cm high, and 60cm long. It is always kept warm with a light, and there is a tiny camera inside to watch the baby. When parents open the door of the box, a ringing sound automatically occurs and we can immediately save the baby. We are also conducting sex education for unmarried parents, especially female teenagers who came here to put their baby inside. If necessary, we give financial support. We regularly donate about ₩200,000, and provide products such as diapers and powdered milk.

Q3. Some people say that putting a baby inside a baby box is a type of baby abandonment. What is your opinion of that criticism?

When a child falls into the water, we cannot help but save the child. A baby box plays a similar role. Since the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption was revised, the number of children coming to the baby box increased about 10 times. Putting a baby in the baby box is not abandonment. It is an act of saving a baby who might have otherwise died. It is directly linked to the resolution for contempt of life. Such criticism seems to be short-sighted and unreasonable, as baby boxes are currently operating globally. What is really needed is an appropriate infrastructure. Concerning this, we are now preparing a new adoption law, which supports anonymous births in urgent situations and allows only adopted children and parents to have access to birth records. In addition, the law can make it possible to trace missing fathers who ran away.

Q4. Until now, about 1,200 babies have passed through the baby box. Do you have any impressionable memories related to them?

There was a child named Mose, who was the first child dropped off after the baby box was made. When he was left inside the baby box, his umbilical cord was still attached. I rolled him tight with a towel. I named him Mose, because he finally came here after overcoming the difficulties of the outside world. I thought it was a blessing from God. He is now adopted by a pastor, the one who helped us. He said that he and his wife had been unable to have a baby since they got married ten years earlier. The couple was younger and in better condition than me, so I agreed to let them raise Mose.

Q5. There might be many difficulties while running a baby box. What is the most needed support in terms of personal and social dimensions?

In Korea, there is a strong shame culture. This results in a lack of financial support for unmarried parents and negative prejudices toward them. I once went to France, where I was surprised that even middle schools have nursery facilities for teenage parents. Korea should also provide social support for them, especially by making new adoption laws. For this, I want Kingos to have active discussions about the problem, including abandoned babies and unmarried parents. Intellectuals can change the world entirely.

Nothing is more important than life. Like what Pastor Lee said, it is time to give attention to the abandoned babies and their parents in difficult times. At the end of 2017, it is a good idea for Kingos to better understand and sympathize with their harsh realities through this article about baby boxes and do what they can to help them.

이수연  pim545@skku.edu

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