A 17-year-old high school student holds her newborn baby tightly and walks up to the stairs leading to a child’s nursery. She then opens a hatch in the wall and softly puts the blanket-covered baby down. She turns around and walks away, sobbing with tears. Why is she leaving her baby in a hatch in the wall?
South Korea has a teen pregnancy rate of 2.9 women per 1000, according to the Korean Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Despite this low percentage, the small portion of girls who are carrying a child struggle, both socially and mentally. This is because teenage pregnancy is considered to be shameful by a large majority of Koreans. Pregnant adolescents are usually publicly ostracized by their peers, and sometimes even by their family members.
And, since many do not want to be isolated by their acquaintances, what they do with their babies vary. Women who experience teenage pregnancy do so mainly as a result of unprotected sexual intercourse, sexual abuse, incest, and many more unfortunate circumstances. While some of these girls choose to care for the baby, many are forced to abandon them in the streets, or in extreme cases, in public bathrooms.
After hearing reports of babies being deserted in hazardous and life-threatening circumstances, Pastor Lee Jong-Rak of the Jusarang Community Church chose to take action. He created a facility – called baby boxes – for them. Pastor Lee stated that, “Some teenagers give birth to babies in empty houses or in public toilets. They wrap them in old shirts or towels and bring them to us.”
These Baby Boxes, also known as baby hatches, was created by this small Seoul church. They are temperature-controlled chambers that function as a baby box and enables unwanted newborns to be taken in anonymously without parents having to identify themselves. Almost 200 babies are deposited into the baby box every year. Sometimes they are still covered in blood or with the umbilical cord still attached to the naked body.
However, despite the charity of the baby boxes, since last year, the Gwanak district office has continuously urged Pastor Lee to close down the service. In 2012, the country banned the adoption of undocumented babies, and required all adoptions to be court-approved. According to Min Seo-young, a local official, baby boxes are seen “as an illegal facility that encourages baby abandonment.”
But what would be the impact of prohibiting baby boxes?
The numbers show that 152 infants were abandoned in the first seven months of 2017; an occurrence that should never have to be experienced. With the regulation, that number is only capable of increasing, with single women being forced to now illicitly abandon unwanted newborns. So, the numbers show it all. Instead of decreasing the number of baby boxes, officials need to legalize these critical facilities that can save hundreds of innocent lives.
Providing baby boxes and expanding the nurseries attached to them would permit single women to anonymously give their newborns that they cannot ever hope to raise, an opportunity to survive: care and adoption. While the babies may never find their biological mothers, it certainly seems to be a better alternative than being forgotten in a public bathroom at Seoul station.
Jessica Kim, Grade 11
Chadwick International School