Child Abandonment and Anonymous Surrendering of Babies: Experiences in Ten High-income Countries

Laura Navne and Marie Jakobsen - Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies


In 2017 the Danish Parliament considered introducing baby hatches in Denmark and asked the authors to investigate the extent and causes of child abandonment and various practices and services in relation to prevention of child abandonment in Denmark and other high-income countries. We conducted a literature study and interviewed experts from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Poland, Austria, the UK, and the US. In addition, this article presents original data on child abandonment in Denmark based on a media search and information from police and adoption reports from 2008 to 2018 generated for this specific study. Our study confirms that while child abandonment is a rare event, it still occurs in all countries included in this study. Existing data suggest that the mothers of abandoned children constitute a heterogeneous group; representing a wide span with regard to sociodemographic characteristics and mental health states. The data collected on child abandonment in Denmark show that abandoned infants were most likely delivered outside the hospital without health professional assistance, and a significant risk factor for women abandoning their infant appears to be concealed pregnancy. Addressing the problem of child abandonment, public authorities or private organizations provides measures that make it possible for parents to anonymously surrender babies in 6 of the 10 countries included in the study (Germany, the Netherlands, France, Poland, Austria, and the US). Such measures include baby hatches, safe havens, foundling rooms and anonymous births. The remaining four countries included in the study (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the UK) offer neither baby hatches nor anonymous births. We find no evidence that baby hatches or other measures offering anonymous surrendering of babies save lives. Rather, it seems that they increase the incidence of child abandonment.