Police challenge anonymity of "baby boxes"

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Last month we reported that the first baby was placed in a "baby box" in Prague - which is a heated place where mothers can give up their unwanted babies anonymously for adoption. The fact that mothers can do so without revealing their identity was the principal idea behind the creation of the baby boxes. Their advocates say that mothers who intend to abandon their children because of a personal crisis will do so anyway and a baby box can save babies from dying out in the cold or being killed at birth. However, the guarantee of anonymity for the mothers has now been challenged.

Earlier this month, high-ranking police officer Alena Plskova said in the main evening news on Czech Television that the police were going to search for the mothers of babies placed in baby boxes. The reason she gave was that the children's parents may be drug or alcohol addicts and the babies could be suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

Ludvik Hess from the Statim foundation for abandoned children is the founder of the baby box project in the Czech Republic.

"Colonel Plskova jeopardised the very idea of the baby box. Placing a child in a baby box is not a criminal act and therefore the idea that police should investigate is wrong. Three babies have so far been placed there and the police never acted. The legality of the baby boxes was recently confirmed by the Ministry of Social Affairs which issued guidelines for all parties involved on how to proceed when a baby is placed there, and the Health Minister recently issued an approval for health-care establishments to open their own baby boxes."

Ludvik Hess fears that if mothers cannot rely on their anonymity being respected, they might resort to some extreme action instead of placing their unwanted baby in a baby box.

"A mother who fears police investigation may choose to abandon the child wherever - or even worse - kill it. It was an ill-advised statement that Mrs Plskova said on TV."

Ludvik Hess's fears are shared by the Save the Children Foundation which looks for new homes for abandoned children. It has now officially complained about the police statements. In the last five years, twelve unwanted newborn children have been killed by their parents in the Czech Republic and it is cases like those the baby boxes are intended to prevent, their advocates say.