Local Town’s Hospital Unveils Baby Box
Published: November 7, 2012 (Issue # 1734)
DMITRY LOVETSKY / AP
Yelena Kotova, head of social foundation Kolybel Nadezhdy (Cradle of Hope) opens the baby box in Kirishi on Oct. 31.
A baby box opened in a hospital in the small town of Kirishi in the Leningrad Oblast last week has become the tenth of its kind so far in the country. The box is a window where desperate mothers can leave unwanted babies, and it is hoped that the box could save the lives of babies rejected by their mothers.
Russia annually registers several hundred murders of newborns by their mothers, and cases of dead or still living babies found in garbage containers, forests or snowdrifts in different parts of the country are often reported in the national media.
One of the most recent cases was reported in St. Petersburg in August when a stranger found a 3-day-old baby covered with a plastic bag in the bushes. The boy, who was still alive, received medical treatment and was lucky to get adopted a month later.
“Baby box is, of course, neither a slogan nor a panacea but it’s a way of attracting attention to the problem and of helping women who lose their way,” said Galina Murzakayeva, coordinator at the Russian social foundation Kolybel Nadezhdy (Cradle of Hope), which organized the baby box service in Kirishi and a number of other Russian cities.
Kirishi, located about 100 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg, is not known for a particularly high rate of murders of newborn babies by their parents, but avoiding such situations is still necessary, said Nikolai Kozminykh, former ombudsman of the Leningrad Oblast, who actively promoted the opening of the baby box when still in the post.
Kozminykh said he decided to support the project after dealing with a case in which Tajik migrants brought a baby to police that they said they had found in a garbage container. Kozminykh, who has children of his own, said he was deeply affected by the case.
Yelena Kotova, head of Kolybel Nadezhdy, said that although statistically 12 to 16 newborn babies or their dead bodies are found in Russia every month, the real figures are three times higher, for many of the bodies are never found.
According to Russian police statistics, in 2010-2011 268 cases that qualified as the murder of a baby by its mother were registered.
The methods used to dispose of unwanted babies are often remarkable for their brutality.
In Kotova’s home city of Perm last year the bodies of two newborn babies were found on the balcony of one family’s apartment. The woman who lived in that apartment with her other children just felt unable to raise more children, Kotova said.
In 2010 a 23-year-old woman gave birth to her baby in a forest in the Moscow region, then hit the unwanted child’s head twice against a tree, before putting the baby’s body on the rails of a suburban railway line, where it was run over by an electric train, Moskovsky Komsomolets daily reported.
On New Year’s Eve last year in a town in the Irkutsk Oblast a woman threw her six-month-old baby into a snowdrift and ran away a few minutes before midnight. Fortunately, the incident was seen by other people, who picked up the baby and called the police and ambulance, Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said.
In Jan. 2010, in St. Petersburg, a mother left her 10-day-old daughter outside when the temperatures dropped to minus 20 C. An elderly pensioner heard a baby’s cry and found the girl, which saved the child’s life.
The essential sum of 263,000 rubles ($8,300) for opening the life-saving window in Kirishi’s hospital was raised thanks to donations by local businessmen.
The technology of a baby box window is simple. After a baby is put into the baby box, the door closes after 30 seconds and a signal is sent to the nursing unit. The baby box is not under video surveillance, so women can feel completely anonymous when leaving their baby.
Next to the baby box there are information stands with appeals to parents to think over their decision carefully, and phone numbers they can call to get help.
Kotova said that though the project in Perm was only a year old, a baby had already been left in a baby box in the city. The five-day-old girl was left in there in good health with a note that gave her name and date of birth. Two more babies were left in baby boxes separately organized by the administration of Russia’s Krasnodar region.
At the same time the emergency helpline given on Kolybel Nadezhdy’s information board has already brought at least 16 young women to the foundation and social services. All those women found the help they needed and kept their babies, Kotova said.
Kotova said from her experience the major reasons for abandoning babies in Russia are most often the combination of “post-natal depression and serious financial worries.”
“When women have post-natal depression they often behave irrationally. But if in that condition they are also in a desperate financial and social situation it may lead them to dramatic action. And in most cases those women are not necessarily alcoholics or drug addicts,” Kotova said.
“Sometimes a woman who already has two children realizes that she won’t be able to raise the third one and gets rid of that child. Or we had a 19-year-old girl who had a three-month-old baby and appealed for help to us because she had neither a place to live nor money to live on. When we met with her she held the baby dressed in a rabbit shape suit and kept saying ‘I don’t know what to do with him!’” Kotova said.
Nikolai Muravlyev, senior priest at one of Kirishi’s churches, who came to bless the new baby box at the opening ceremony, called the service “an island of safety.”
“This service may look unusual but in a dramatic situation in which a woman is so desperate that she may even commit a crime, it can really be a salvation,” Muravlyev said.
Tatyana Sobolevskaya, deputy of the head doctor at the hospital’s maternity department of the hospital where the baby box was opened, said “the baby box is not a call to leave babies that way but a lifeline which can save them in case of emergency.”
“Even if only one child is saved that way it will be worth it,” Sobolevskaya said.
The practice of installing baby boxes, which came to Russia from European countries such as Britain or Germany, where baby boxes are already quite numerous, has become the subject of heated debate. Opponents say that baby boxes promote irresponsibility and orphancy, while supporters argue that the facilities may save unwanted babies from inevitable death.
Svetlana Agapitova, children’s ombudsman of St. Petersburg, said that in order for baby boxes to be effective they should be opened in large numbers. “Otherwise, it won’t be effective for mothers deciding to leave babies but not prepared to travel to a distant place with a baby box to leave a child there,” she said. People should also be well informed about such places, Agapitova said.
Meanwhile, according to statistics provided by the St. Petersburg children’s ombudsman’s office, in 2010 there were 5,606 cases registered of mothers rejecting their newborns, in 2009 they registered 6,852 cases of the kind, in 2008 — 7,442 cases. In 2010 the leading number of such rejections was registered in Moscow, the Kemerovo Oblast, the Krasnodar region, the Sverdlovsk Oblast and the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.
In some regions the high rate of rejections was due to such action being taken by migrant mothers, particularly by illegal migrant mothers, the ombudsman’s office said.
The total number of children in care in Russia totals more than 700,000. About 70 percent of these children have been taken in by foster parents, adoptive families or receive guardianship. However, about 130,000 remain in orphanages, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said earlier this year.