Abandoned Babies: Do Drop-Off Points For Unwanted Newborns Save Lives?

A pair of recent cases in Switzerland has turned new attention to the issue of "Babyklappe" – drop-off points for abandoned newborns. The country currently has just one such facility, though more could be on the way.

Jeanette Kuster

ZURICH -- Switzerland has been stirred in recent days by the contrasting fates of two babies. In Wimmis, near the city of Bern, a newborn child was found dead last week on a junk heap. Several days later, a healthy, one-month-old baby was deposited at the Babyklappe – a place where unwanted infants can be turned in – in the hospital in Einsiedeln, canton Schwyz.

The incidents gave new wind to calls that more drop-off points like the one in Einsiedeln be created. The Einsiedeln Babyfenster (Baby Window) is in fact the only such facility in the country, even though available figures suggest more drop-off points are a good idea. The facility's homepage (www.babyfenster.ch) states that "since we opened on May 9, 2001, the number of newborn babies found dead has markedly decreased in Switzerland." According to the site, from 1996 to 2000, 11 babies were given up anonymously at birth and 64% died. From 2001 to 2005, eight babies were abandoned. Half of them died. Of the four that survived, three were brought to the Babyfenster. From 2006 to 2010, there were nine babies, 22% died; again, three of the survivors were brought to the Babyklappe.

The Swiss in general, according to a poll conducted in 2011, favor opening new drop-off points: 87% saw the creation of more Babyklappen as very useful or useful. Roughly 58% said there should be regional drop-off points, while 28% were for opening a facility in every hospital. A number of hospitals, like the Spital Zollikerberg (canton Zurich), are planning to do just that – and the Spital Davos (canton Graubünden) will open its drop-off point this summer.

Is confidentiality the key?

In neighboring Germany, however, the trend is shifting in the other direction. According to the paper Zeit, German Minister of Families Kristina Schröder wants to "create a legal framework in 2012 for so-called ‘confidential births."" What at first glance appears positive would actually spell the end of Babyklappen. New regulations would mean that mothers could remain anonymous – but only for 10 years. After that, children would have the right to know who their biological mother was.

The logic behind the limited anonymity clause is that according to experts, children who do not know who their real parents are more susceptible to identity crises and problems of self-esteem. Schröder is also basing her recommendations on a study released a few days ago by the German Youth Institute (DJI). The report shows that – despite the introduction of Babyklappen and tolerance of "anonymous births' -- the number of infant deaths in Germany has not declined. The study also found that mothers who abandon their newborn babies anonymously and mothers who kill their infants have one thing in common: they live in a state of denial about their pregnancy until shortly before giving birth, they keep the pregnancy and birth a secret, and grow progressively isolated.

The authors of the study could only speculate, however, about why some mothers – after having gotten through giving birth in isolation – maintain some level of control over the situation and make sure nothing happens to the child, while others kill their newborn baby. The difference, they suggest, could lie in "personality structure and individual coping and problem solving mechanisms of the women." The study also suggests that "unexpected events that take place during childbirth, such as a doorbell ringing, could unleash panic and influence the mother's behavior."

If a routine event like a ringing doorbell that under most circumstances would not be particularly meaningful can impact whether a baby lives or dies, would knowing that there was a Babyklappe nearby make any difference? On the other hand, it might make all the difference – because the longer the trip to get there, the more unpredictable things can happen to unleash the mother's panic and potentially harmful behavior.

False assumptions

The study provides no definitive answers. But it does provide information about the background of mothers who give up their babies anonymously. What emerges is that from its outset, the Babyklappe project was based on false assumptions about the group it was targeting. It focused on prostitutes, drug addicts and very young girls, yet it seems that the group of women concerned is far more varied.

Babyklappe mothers cannot be categorized by age or social status. Their levels of education are as varied as their economic situations. What they do have in common, according to the study, are "diffuse, panicky anxiety and a related inability to communicate. The inability to verbalize the problem appears to lead to a sense of helplessness that makes it impossible for them to open up to people and get the support they need."

It is precisely because of the communication issue that guaranteed anonymity is a prerequisite to reach this group of women. So, is the direction being taken by the German minister of families the wrong one? Not necessarily. Because the study also shows that while the mothers display the wish for "a high degree of anonymity" as regards the authorities, employers and their social network, this wish is by no means as clear-cut as regards their baby. The study authors thus recommend developing "a concept for helping them that honors selective anonymity with regard to certain people and institutions but facilitates contact with others such as the child."

That there is a single right solution for all mothers who perceive their situations as desperate is unlikely. While some feel comfortable with the idea of a "confidential birth," for others the panic about losing anonymity is so great they lose sight of anything else, including the possibility of complications during childbirth and survival of the child. So developing a country-wide network of Babyklappen in Switzerland is certainly appropriate, as are other solutions like telephone help lines. The Schweizerische Hilfe für Mutter und Kind (Swiss Help for Mother and Child) is a case in point. The other key element is making sure the word gets out that these options exist.

Read the original story in German

Photo - atv aktuell

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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