Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finder's Fees, Baby Hatches & Safe Havens: Incentivizing "Safe Abandonment"

I've been thinking for a while about this comment to my blog post about Chinese orphanages buying babies:
Seems to me this is more likened to an, albiet disgusting, "finders fee" and perhaps an ill advised way to keep babies from being left in spots they may be more vulnerable?
I've heard this argument before, that the finder's fee incentivizes parents so that children won't be abandoned in dangerous places.  I see similarities in this argument to safe haven laws: we can protect children by incentivizing safe circumstances for their abandonment.

There's just one problem with that -- people who abandon children are usually beyond the reach of the reason needed to be incentivized.  Or at least that's the case in the U.S., according the the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's report on the unintended consequences of safe haven laws:
It is clear that a lack of anonymity and a fear of prosecution (the two issues these laws focus upon) do not motivate women to leave their infants in dangerous circumstances – denial and desperation do.  [R]esearch shows that the affected population – especially teens experiencing unplanned pregnancy – are so distraught or in denial that they act in panic rather than with the thoughtfulness required to take a newborn to a designated site.

* * *

One of the few abandoning mothers interviewed in the press explained, “When I delivered I was scared, I was afraid, I was panicked, I was frantic – I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was not in a rational state of mind to say, `Oh, I’m going to take the baby to the hospital.’ Additionally, these women experience minimal or no physical pregnancy changes, depersonalization, dissociative hallucinations, and intermittent amnesia. Some women who commit neonaticide “later described having experienced a dissociative episode during childbirth and were “horrified to later discover what had become of their infants."
Does that sound like a mother who is reachable by rational thought, able to make plans to "safe haven" the child? The reality is that rational women don't need safe havens, abandoning mothers are not rational and will, therefore, not use safe havens. The incentive behind safe havens -- the promise of confidentiality and lack of prosecution for abandonment -- can't work on abandoning mothers in the grips of emotional, psychological and practical difficulties.

But maybe it is different in China, in other cultures.  Maybe abandonment is seen through more rational eyes (which kind of smacks of birth mother as exotic "Other," doesn't it?).  Well, consider this article about new "baby hatches" in Malaysia.  After extoling the virtues of the baby hatches, and discussing the plans for creating more baby hatches in Malaysia, the president of the orphan care organization behind the baby hatches says:
[M]ost of the babies and children left at its premises were not placed in the hatch, but handed over with the proper documents by their biological mothers. Only two babies were placed inside the baby hatch.

"Unwed mothers have been knocking on our doors to give up their babies instead of simply leaving them in the hatch and walking away."
Interesting, women in Malaysia are not being incentivized by safe havens/baby hatches, either.  They are walking in to place their children, without needing a secret baby hatch.  Yes, there are still abandonments in Malaysia, just like there are still abandonments in the U.S. despite safe haven laws.  Sounds like Malaysia faces the same issue we do -- abandoning mothers can't be incentivized to "safe abandonments (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one!)" by baby hatches/safe havens.

The article admits that the real solution has been an education program that lets prospective birth mothers know where to go to place a child for adoption, not a program that lets them know there's a safe, secret baby hatch as an alternative to abandonment: "The awareness programmes are important. It is because of increased awareness that unwed mothers now know where to go to if they want to put up their children for adoption."

So  do finder's fees, safe havens, baby hatches incentivize safe abandonments?  The research, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggests not as to safe havens and baby hatches at least.

Does money work any better?  There's certainly no evidence to show that it does.  The argument that finder's fees do incentivize "safe abandonment" have to rest on the power of money to influence behavior in this context.  And then doesn't that argument also concede the coercive power of that money in the relinquishment decision?  Where is our free and voluntary surrender of a child then?

Which concedes that these finder's fees/incentive programs in China are not benign child protection measures, but actually coercive programs that violate the Hague Convention. That's what I argued in this previous post:  Cash, Consent and the Hague Convention.


Sharon said...

There are some places in India where relinquishing a baby is illegal, yet safe have "cradle schemes" exist...so the cradles truly are the only safe option for a rational thinking parent who can't care for the child

Molly W. said...

I don't think you can compare China to other countries -- it's such a specific situation, legally; married moms are abandoning their daughters for rational reasons, not because they're terrified teens in denial about being pregnant.

I am not completely up to speed on Chinese adoption, but my understanding is that it's *illegal* to formally place a child for adoption -- and in that context, yes a "safe haven" could help.

In the US, or in countries where legal relinquishment is possible? Then I think safe haven options are pretty pointless.

Anonymous said...

And yet with enough frequency another horrific story streams through the media about a dead hours old infant found in a trash bin or public restroom.

I too recall that question posed by Anon. in the previous post.

I took from it that they were wondering about the role of Chinese parents in "selling" their children into adoption. I thought Anon. was trying to make sense of the senseless as best he/she could without stepping on too many toes.

The fact remains that many countries continue to outlaw abandonment, whether its "understood", cultural or truly on the law books.

One might hasten to point also, that even one child spared the trash bin or dark doorstep, is reason enough for them to exist? Even if most vulnerable women in that position won't avail themselves of it due to temporary amnesia or such??....some do. Some have. Isn't that something?

AND please before folks pounce. NO, I am NOT linking all mother's who face relinquishment with a willingness for a prospensity to dump their child or leave them in unsafe conditions.

But it does happen. Yes, it does. And even one is too many.

I also agree its rather silly to presume to know exactly what goes on in China or to draw those comparisons. Liken it to guesses in the dark.

Malinda, I think you missed the boat on this one. I would have rather seen an honest discussion of why birthparents in China sell their babies, if in fact they do.

Though again....guesses in the dark.

Oh well.

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