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‘Baby safes’ ignite child welfare controversy

A ‘safe deposit box’ where parents can leave unwanted babies might encourage more people to abandon their children, child welfare groups fear.

The hole-in-the wall two-way ‘baby safe’, which opened in the South African capital, Cape Town last week allows parents to dump unwanted babies anonymously, knowing the child will be cared for.

Every year about 500 babies are abandoned in Western Cape province. Some are left for dead on rubbish tips, in bin bags or at public toilets.

The out of Africa Children's Fund's device, attached to a community centre is aimed at letting struggling mothers give their children up for adoption safely without any fear of punishment.

When someone puts a baby inside the steel safe, it locks automatically and sets off an alarm at a security company. It also sends a text message to the mobile phones of three charity workers living nearby.

“I was horrified to learn recently about the number of babies being abandoned by their parents in our area,” said Kim Ferroli-Highfield, from the Out of Africa Children's Fund.

“I went to the police and they said they only find out when a dog is carrying a limb in its mouth,” she told the Guardian. “I was quite horrified and thought this is something that needs to be addressed."

She said the charity had bought five of the £1,300 units and planned to install the other four in spots around the country in the next few months. The idea is a high-tech version of other baby safe schemes already running in Johannesburg and Durban. "All I want to do is save the baby," she said. "I don't want people to dump babies down drains or uncovered man holes."

But children's groups are worried the baby safes could spur a rise in the number of abandoned babies. "We should not be encouraging parents to dump their babies anonymously,” said Joan van Niekerk from South Africa's ChildLine service.

"We do have a huge problem with abandoned children but baby safes are not the way to solve it,” she told the Telegraph. "The issue is caused because the HIV pandemic and widespread unemployment which often leaves mothers feeling hopeless. We have no facilities for new mothers in South Africa.

But Ms Ferroli-Highfield said it won’t lead to more babies being abandoned. "If they want to abandon the baby, they're going to do it. If I can stop one among those 500, then at least I've saved one baby's life."

Hayley attribution