Baby box’s spread sparks fierce debate over societal attitudesIn 2009, Jusarang Community Church in Seoul set up what has become known as Korea’s “baby box,” a safe compartment in the religious structure’s wall where single mothers faced with limited alternatives can anonymously leave their infants.
Word caught on, and since its inception, the church has taken in a total of 438 babies as of April 5.
But the idea also appears to have spread nationwide criticism, sparking an intense debate over its impact on society. Some insist the baby box is saving children that will otherwise be abandoned anyway, while others argue it facilitates those abandonments.
The New Canaan Church in Gunpo, Gyeonggi, recently ordered an iron baby box that cost 3 million won ($2,888). Its design essentially copies the first baby box established at Jusarang Community Church, except the new compartment will be equipped with a temperature control function.
The organization said it will place the box at the church’s entrance and accept abandoned babies starting next week.
“What matters is saving children who are being left in trash cans and on the streets,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, a curate at the church. “Whether the baby box is illegal or not is not very important.”
The Jusarang Community Church is also planning to build another facility to accommodate abandoned babies in Goyang, Gyeonggi, because it currently receives about 20 babies per month.
The new facility in Gunpo, however, has not been as warmly received by residents living nearby.
“Construction is being delayed because local residents are protesting,” said Jeong Yeong-ran, a missionary at the church. “They’re saying they don’t want unwed mothers to come here to give up their babies.”
Yet despite this growing trend, authorities have yet to take measures and say that leaving infants in the baby box may not actually be a crime.
“If babies are left in remote areas or life-threatening environments, then it is an illegal form of abandonment,” a police officer from Gwanak District said.
“But we aren’t actively cracking down on unwed mothers who abandon their babies in a baby box, because the law doesn’t clearly stipulate that leaving babies in open protection facilities, like the Jusarang Community Church, is illegal.”
Song Jun-heon, an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, added that it would be difficult to mandate the shutdown of those services.
“It would be hard to make them shut down all baby boxes right away given that there are so many unwed mothers who can’t afford to raise their babies,” he said.
“When prejudice against single mothers diminishes and the social support system for them is strengthened, the number of people who turn to the baby box will naturally decrease.”
Adoption organizations, on the other hand, have taken a more hardline stance on the issue.
“The baby box neglects the rights of adoptees in knowing who their parents are,” said Shannon Heit, a 33-year-old Korean woman who was adopted in 1986 by an American family. “Babies may be abandoned in the baby box without the consent of their birth parents.”
But the baby box idea is not unique to Korea, and controversy over their existence has also played out across other nations.
Currently, more than 20 countries, including the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic, legally employ baby boxes.
However, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the Czech Republic, which operates 40 baby boxes domestically, halt those operations because they violated adoptees’ right to know who their birth parents are and whether they want to be raised by them.
The Netherlands planned to establish baby boxes, but abandoned the proposal after the United Nations’ recommendation.
BY LEE YU-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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