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'Stork's Cradle' - a safe haven for unwanted newborns

Doctor launches 'baby hatch' for abandoned infants

The sign that directs desparate mothers to the Stork’s Cradle The sign that directs desparate mothers to the Stork’s Cradle
  • ucanews.com correspondent, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • January 29, 2013
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Taiji Hasuda began working at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto City, in 1969. Now chairman at 76, Hasuda describes the profound effect this Catholic hospital’s care of mothers and their children had on him during his early days, when the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary were running it.

“I saw here the devoted care the sisters poured out on premature babies, sometimes staying up all night with them,” Hasuda says. 

“During a long career as an ob-gyn, I sometimes encountered cases where the mother was near death from excessive blood loss. I couldn’t keep myself from praying,” he says.

“There were so many times that I couldn’t come up with any explanation other than divine intervention as to why a woman didn’t die, which is why I was finally baptized with my wife in 1998.”

Every time Hasuda sees a story about children being abused and dying, he can’t help “wondering regretfully whether something could have been done to save them.”

In 2004, he visited Germany with the hospital’s director of nursing. There they observed a babyklappe, or “baby hatch,” where parents unable to care for a baby could anonymously leave their child.

Shortly after he returned to Kumamoto Prefecture -- about 890 kms southwest of Tokyo -- the area was rocked by three separate cases of newborns being abandoned and left to die. Finally, in May, 2007, Hasuda and Jikei Hospital established Japan’s first anonymous baby drop, which is called Konotori no Yurikago, or “Stork’s Cradle.”

The Stork’s Cradle has been the subject of intense debate, but in its five years of operation more than 80 children have been left there. “I am not married,” “My financial situation is too dire,” and “I had an affair” are some of the reasons parents give for this last resort.

When a child is found in the Stork’s Cradle, Jikei Hospital contacts the police, city government and a child-raising counseling center. Ordinarily, someone from the counseling center will take the child and raise it in a baby shelter until the age of three.

“The children there think of the center staff as their mothers, but under present regulations children must be moved to children’s homes at the age of three. When the day comes for them to leave, the children cry and scream. It’s no different than if they were taken from their real mothers.”

In principle, they will live in the children’s home until the age of 18, but in practice they are usually taken in either by foster parents or their real parents. When they are 18, they must leave the children’s home, and all too often a host of hardships await them.

“It’s so important that a child be raised in a single household, even if it isn’t with their natural parents. It has such a big influence on their future," Hasusa says. 

Whenever parents reach out to Jikei for help in person, the hospital recommends adoption as the best option for those who simply can’t raise their own children. As of the end of the last fiscal year in March, 2012, more than 130 babies had been matched with adoptive parents this way.

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