Whenever the bell rings, Pastor Lee Jong-rak goes to the door of his church in southwest Seoul already expecting no one on the other side. His guests come and go but they always leave him gifts—newborn babies unwanted by their mothers.
Since opening the “baby box” three years ago, Pastor Lee has heard the bell ring dozens of times. But the constant reverberations have caused concern as South Korea attempts to shed a reputation of being a source of abandoned babies.
In the first seven months of this year, 152 infants were left by their mothers, up from 62 in the same period in 2012, according to Ministry of Health and Welfare data.
The drastic increase was inadvertently caused by a new law aimed at protecting the rights of children, some have claimed.
The new Special Adoption Law, which took effect in August, was intended to ensure adoption is more transparent by stipulating that infants can’t be put up for adoption without their births being registered with the government.
It also requires that mothers remain with their newborns for a minimum of seven days before putting them up for adoption.
One effect of this law has been that some mothers, feeling they have no other option, are compelled to leave their babies.
Lee said the baby box receives an average of about 19 newborns per month since the law was passed. Many of the babies abandoned in the box are mentally or physically disabled.
He and his team of staff and volunteers take care of the newborns for two or three days before they are transferred to a hospital and then placed in an orphanage.
Despite the new law, Lee said he never forced mothers to provide information about the babies they leave in the box.
“If you look at the letters that mothers leave with their babies, they say they have nowhere to go, and it’s because of the new law,” Lee told Reuters.
Activist Jeong Trenka says the increase in abandonments isn’t due to the law itself.
“It’s the misperception of the law that has caused the problems, not the law itself. It’s a matter of educating these mothers about how the law really works,” she said.
By: Maesie Bertumen