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‘Another excuse’: Evere rejects baby hatch for second time

18:09 24/02/2021
Despite a successful similar initiative in Antwerp, Brussels has not embraced the idea of a safe place to abandon babies

A baby hatch will not be installed in Evere, much to the disappointment of the non-profit organisation that has been fighting for it for several years.

A baby hatch is a safe place for parents – usually mothers – to leave newborn babies who they cannot care for. The idea is to prevent babies from being abandoned in places where they might not be found or might not survive.

Baby hatches can be found in countries around the world, including Germany, Italy and Austria, though the legislation around them can be murky. While they have been approved by authorities in the countries in which they are installed, the act of abandoning babies is often illegal in the same country.

Belgium has just one baby hatch, located in Antwerp. Since its establishment in 2000, 18 babies have been left in the hatch. The babies are placed in foster care and, if no contact is made with a parent, eventually put up for adoption.

No prosecutions

According to Moeders voor Moeders (Mother for Mothers), which manages the hatch, several of the 18 babies were reunited with their mothers later. A parent has six months to change their minds and ask for their baby back. They must present an identifying tag that could be found in the hatch when the baby was left.

While abandoning babies is illegal in Belgium, Moeders voor Moeders has arranged with the local authorities not to prosecute parents who leave babies in the hatch. Brussels does not have such an agreement, which the mayor of Evere cited more than three years ago as one of the reasons his municipality would not approve the installation of a hatch.

He also said that such a hatch would encourage mothers to abandon their babies, which is illegal. Corvia, which supports people living in poverty, was behind the effort to get the hatch installed in its centre in Evere. It took the municipality’s decision to the Council of State, arguing that it was not encouraging abandonment “but offering mothers who are desperate and will abandon their babies a safe place to leave them”.

The baby hatch in Antwerp
The baby hatch in Antwerp: A silent alarm goes off to alert staff and a physician that a baby has been left  
©Jonas Roosens/BELGA

The Council of State agreed and overturned the mayor’s decision last year. Evere has a different mayor now, who appeared to be ready to discuss the issue with Corvia.

But this week he announced that the municipality has decided not to approve the infrastructure once again. He said the decision was made following advice received from child protection agencies and the justice department. “They advised against it,” said Evere mayor Ridouane Chahid (PS). “Not to mention that the building in question does not conform to the planning conditions required for this sort of activity.”

Corvia staff have installed the hatch in their own premises in Evere, though are not allowed to open it up to the public. “The municipality is never going to give us permission and will always find another excuse,” Aline Duportail of Corvia told La Dernière Heure. “Now we are considering moving our organisation to another municipality in Brussels.”

Moeders for Moeders in Antwerp, meanwhile, are amazed that, 21 years later, they are still maintaining Belgium’s only baby hatch. “Babies that are left here are nearly always less than 24 hours old,” the organisation’s Katrin Beyers told De Standaard in 2017. “So a mother from, say, Charleroi, has to take to her car directly after giving birth and drive all the way to Antwerp. That increases the risk that they will choose a less safe option closer to home.”

Photo, top: Getty Images

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw