Photo: Ina Fassbender/Reuters
The unassuming box on the side of the wall above is a baby hatch or foundling wheel, which allows people to give up their baby anonymously (in the United States, there is a similar idea of "safe-haven" laws where parents can leave infants in police stations, hospitals and fire houses.)
Baby hatches aren't exactly a new thing - its roots go back to medieval Italy, but recently, due to the economic crisis in Europe, their popularity is growing. And predictably, so do the controversies surrounding them:
The hatch’s popularity in recent times is most peculiar in Germany, the country with Europe’s strongest economy. SterniPark set up its first babyklappe following the discovery of a dead baby on a treadmill at a recycling plant. The charity now operates three hatches in Hamburg.
For baby-box advocates, the argument is simple: They help prevent infanticide and protect a child’s right to life. Roughly 30 to 40 babies die each year in Germany due to abandonment; SterniPark says that roughly the same number of babies have been left in the hatches since their inception. Only a small minority of mothers ever come back to claim their children.
Critics, however, argue that the boxes have no impact on infanticide rates and that many women do not give up their babies by choice. Herczog says evidence suggests that men or the mother’s relatives are frequently the ones leaving babies in the hatches, not the mothers themselves.