Child abandonment in Europe is neglected issue, say researchers

May 29, 2012

Researchers have called for a consistent and supportive approach to child abandonment in Europe to protect the welfare of the hundreds of youngsters given up by their parents every year.

Academics from the Centre for Forensic and at The University of Nottingham conducted a two-year project exploring child abandonment and its prevention across the 27 countries of the .

The study, funded by the ’s Daphne programme, looked at children who were both openly left for adoption at maternity units and those secretly abandoned, including the use of controversial ‘baby hatches’ in some European countries to allow mothers to leave their babies anonymously.

Professor Kevin Browne, who led the study, said: “Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) clearly states that every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her . When a child is abandoned, this right is violated. Infants and young children are those most at risk of being abandoned and the rates of child abandonment within the EU are concerning, especially in the current economic climate.”

“Child abandonment is a neglected issue in . Few countries keep national records regarding the number of children abandoned, abandonment is seldom legally defined in legislation, and very little research exists regarding the extent, causes and consequences of this phenomenon.”

“What is required is a consistent and supportive approach to children in need across Europe.”

Exploring the extent of abandonment

The researchers interviewed staff from 100 maternity units and 100 prevention programmes across 10 partner countries — Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the UK — to explore the extent of child abandonment, its causes, its consequences and good practice in terms of prevention.

Government departments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the remainder of the EU were contacted for information relating to child abandonment in their countries.

Of the 22 countries which responded, Slovakia had the highest number of children aged up to three years old who were openly given up for adoption at 4.9 per 1,000 live births, followed by the Czech Republic (4.1 per 1,000 live births), Latvia (3.9 per 1,000 live births) and Poland (3.7 per 1,000 live births).

The researchers found little information regarding the number of children secretly abandoned outdoors or in public spaces but some countries did keep national records of children abandoned by their mothers in maternity units.

Institutional care

Romania had the highest number of children abandoned per year at maternity units with 8.6 per 1,000 live births, followed by Slovakia (3.3 per 1,000 live births), Poland and Lithuania (1.7 per 1,000 live births) and France (1 per 1,000 ). They found that a child being left in a maternity unit is one of the key reasons why children under the age of three are placed into institutional care.

The approaches to addressing secret child abandonment across the EU vary. In some countries it is no longer illegal to abandon a child, provided that the child is left in a safe place.

Of the 27 EU member countries, 11 still have ‘baby hatches’ in operation — Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia — a practice which dates back to medieval times.

The study found that although the assumption is that it is the mother who leaves her infant at a baby hatch, there is growing evidence that it is frequently men or relatives abandoning the child, raising questions about the mother’s whereabouts and whether she has consented to giving up her baby.
Maternal consent questions

The anonymous nature of the hatches also have further implications, among them the lack of information about the child’s family medical history and the lack of opportunity for the baby to remain with its family in the care of other relatives.

The research found that the Czech Republic and Lithuania both have an average of 7 infants left in baby hatches per year, followed by Poland with 6 and Hungary and Slovakia with 4.

In France and Holland, women have the right to remain anonymous to their babies after giving birth, while in the UK it remains a crime to secretly abandon a child and no such comparable birthing laws exist. Previous UK research has identified 124 cases of secret infant abandonment across the UK between 1998 and 2005.

Further information about the project can be found on the web at

Explore further: A call to US educators: Learn from Canada

Related Stories

Study: When a child's birth is unplanned

Apr 30, 2009

( -- One-third of all children born in the United States are the result of unintended pregnancies and not only do these children receive less attention and warmth from their parents than children whose births ...

Recommended for you

College rankings go under the microscope

8 hours ago

Parents, students and admissions officials have combed through college and university rankings for years. However, education researchers have largely ignored the controversial lists. That's about to change, according to a ...

A call to US educators: Learn from Canada

22 hours ago

As states and the federal government in the U.S. continue to clash on the best ways to improve American education, Canada's Province of Ontario manages successful education reform initiatives that are equal parts cooperation ...

Devices or divisive: Mobile technology in the classroom

Apr 17, 2015

Little is known about how new mobile technologies affect students' development of non-cognitive skills such as empathy, self-control, problem solving, and teamwork. Two Boston College researchers say it's ...

Forming school networks to educate 'the new mainstream'

Apr 17, 2015

As immigration increases the number of non-English speaking "culturally and linguistically diverse" students, schools will need to band together in networks focused on the challenges of educating what has been called "the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.