Thursday, November 11, 2010

Children's Right to Know Their Origins

"In the four years since Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto started operating the nation's first "baby hatch," where parents can anonymously leave babies they feel they cannot care for, 57 babies and infants have been dropped off at the hospital.

"In the same period, the hospital has also given free counselling to a number of people about such matters as pregnancy and child-rearing. The hospital continues to receive requests for such consultations.

"The role of the hospital highlights the problems facing society as a whole in aiding people who find it impossible to raise newborns.

"In responding to a buzzer at the incubator-like 24-hour baby hatch, hospital staffers often find newborns, some of them still with umbilical cords still attached.

"Of the 32 boys and 25 girls who were left in the hatch as of spring this year, 48, or 84 percent, were newborns. Six were infants under 1 year old, and three were over 1.

"Shortly after the hospital set up the hatch, which is named Konotori-no-Yurikago (stork's cradle), it received a 3-year-old boy.

""As we expected, many of the babies left were newborns," said Yukiko Tajiri, the hospital's chief nurse. "We've had [mothers] come to the hospital shortly after giving birth to babies at a home, which is dangerous."

"According to the Kumamoto municipal government, which monitors use of the hatch, the parents of 34 babies were confirmed to be from outside Kumamoto Prefecture.

"Of them, 15 were from the Kanto region, and five each were from the Kinki and Chubu regions.

""We saw that there are people in great distress throughout the country," said Taiji Hasuda, director of the hospital. "These babies might have been abused if this hospital hadn't been here."

"Sumio Ishihara, an official of the municipal government's Children's Future Bureau, said some still believe the baby hatch system encourages parents to abandon their children.

""It's obvious that a society that doesn't need such a system would be better," he said. "There are people who come here by train or car from as far as the Kanto region to drop off babies, and there are young people who aren't informed about contraception. [The baby hatch] sheds light on realities of society and flaws in the current system."

"The hospital changed part of the system, deleting a sentence on its Web site that said, "Parents can anonymously drop off babies." It also seeks to contact parents and on its Web page advises would-be users of the baby hatch to use an intercom at the hatch to ask for advice.

"Last fiscal year, the hospital was able to contact about 90 percent of parents who left infants in the baby hatch.

"In seven cases, parents changed their minds when they were dropping the baby off or after the hospital located them.

"Child welfare centers take care of infants left in the baby hatch until they can be temporarily placed in a child consultation office or in foster homes.

"The hospital says it tries to have such infants permanently placed in homes under a special adoption system that legally dissolves infants' relationship with their biological parents and makes them children of the adoptive parents.

"However, problems remain about children's right to know their origins.

""Anonymity is convenient for those who give birth to a baby, but this leaves a serious problem for children as they can't get any information about their origins," said Nobuko Kuroda, an official of Kumamoto prefectural government's Chuo child consultation center.

""The reasons why parents drop off infants include being unmarried, too young, poor or having a child as a result of an extramarital affair," said Prof. Reiho Kashiwame of Shukutoku University, who chairs a committee of the prefectural government tasked with reviewing the baby hatch system. "These problems reflect the society itself. [For example,] we discussed men who don't take responsibility.

""[The baby hatch] shows the child welfare system, as well as the maternal and child health system, don't adequately support people who have unintended pregnancies," she said. "The worries of such parents can lead to child-abuse deaths. The government needs to prepare a shelter for mothers and children that gives advice and can cope with crises.""

By Noriko Sakakibara (Yomiuri Shimbun, 11/7/2010), Link to article (last visited 11/11/2010)

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