Baby 'postbox' has its first delivery

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The Independent Online

It was fairly common practice in the Middle Ages - convents would have a trap-door where mothers could leave unwanted babies without having to face anyone.

It was fairly common practice in the Middle Ages - convents would have a trap-door where mothers could leave unwanted babies without having to face anyone.

Now the idea has been revived and adapted to the 21st century, with groups around the world following the lead set by a Hamburg charity.

The SterniPark centre last week announced that it had taken delivery of its first baby through a special "postbox".

"Everything worked perfectly," said Heinke Steinhäuser, a worker at the centre. "Of course we have mixed feelings about it: on the one hand the baby was left somewhere safe, but on the other hand the mother obviously had no one else to go to."

The two-day-old baby girl, named Ronja, was put through the door one night nine weeks ago. Her mother made a sensible choice leaving her there.

The "postbox" opens on to a heated cot that is within sight of a video camera. The deposit of a baby into the cot sets off an alarm inside that alerts volunteers who then take care of the baby. But the woman handing in her child will never be approached.

"The whole point is to help women who have no other choice," said Ms Steinhäuser.

"We give them a last resort. Unwilling mothers who have nowhere to go and feel they cannot keep the baby are sometimes driven to do terrible things. They can be more ashamed and scared of approaching the authorities than of deserting their babies."

Five newborn babies were abandoned in the Hamburg area last year. Two died after being left out in the open.

Uli Gierse, project leader, said: "We want to prevent mothers from putting their unwanted babies out in the cold somewhere or even killing them in a panic. Here the women can give us their children anonymously."

Ms Steinhäuser added: "They know their babies will be safe and looked after. Ronja is being cared for by a prospective adoptive family.

"The woman had eight weeks where she could have contacted us and we could have arranged for her to keep the child or have access.

"But she did not call, so now the adoption process will begin."

The charity has publicised the baby "postbox" across the city, distributing leaflets and flyers. "It has worked," said Ms Steinhäuser.

"The idea has attracted worldwide attention. There are already similar schemes in Budapest, Palermo and Cape Town. We have also had enquiries from other towns and cities across Germany."

Ronja is unlikely ever to find out what it was that made her mother give her up. She may have been a teenager scared of telling her parents about her pregnancy or a rape victim unable to face bringing up the child of her attacker.

She is likely to have given birth alone and without adequate medical care.

But Ronja has a chance of a happy life. She is reportedly healthy and is being cared for by a family that very much wants her.

"We only hope the mother is able to find help for herself now," said Ms Steinhäuser.

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