18-year-old mother regrets leaving child in baby box

Illustrative photo: Milena Štráfeldová

Baby boxes first came into use in the Czech Republic in 2005, offering mothers unwilling to care for their newborn an anonymous and above all safe means of giving up their baby. Fifteen newborns have been saved since. But the most recent case, this January, is more unusual than most. First, the young mother who gave up her baby is now being investigated by the police. Second, she has changed her mind and told the media she wants her baby back.

Illustrative photo: Milena Štráfeldová
Under normal circumstances 18-year-old Aneta Tokarčíková would have remained anonymous, unknown as a Czech mother who had given her baby up. She and her boyfriend left their daughter - three-month-old Barbora – in a baby box facility at the municipal hospital in Ostrava in late January, the 15th case in the country since the service was introduced. But their case soon saw involvement by police. Child care staff had uncovered (although not easily) that the baby girl had at some point suffered a slight fracture to her arm, which raised questions of possible abuse. Police then came across the mother and ended up arresting her boyfriend - who was wanted nationwide for burglary. Police officials have been clear that so far there is no evidence the little girl was abused: it may be that the fracture was simply an accident. Meanwhile on Friday the little girl’s mother told Czech TV why she had decided to give up the child in the first place:

“I had no money and we had problems with finding a place to live. My boyfriend was out of work and that was the problem. I basically left my baby thinking that I would come back for her later. I didn’t ever think that I wouldn’t see her again.”

Ludvík Hess (left) -  the founder of the Czech baby box system, photo: Milena Štráfeldová
She also addressed the allegations of abuse:

“The allegations in the press concerning abuse aren’t true. Even the police said so. I don’t know how the fracture happened: it’s possible that I wasn’t careful enough when I was dressing her, and that I bent her arm badly. But I never noticed anything wrong, and neither did the staff who picked her up at the baby box.”

Even if the baby’s mother is now cleared of suspicion, it is clear, given difficult family circumstances that she will need help in caring for her baby. There, local social services may help, and she is due to meet with representatives on Friday.

Meanwhile, others point to baby boxes’ importance in this and other cases the country has seen, saying it is an important safety valve which makes a difference. A little earlier I spoke to Ludvík Hess, the founder of the Czech baby box system:

“The decision by the mother to put an unwanted child in a baby box is of course preferable to abandoning the child anywhere else and by now most know that if you leave a child in a baby box, it is not a criminal offence. This case was a little more complex, given that the police are involved. But that is for different reasons: the mother will not be charged for using the baby box.”