It’s bigger than a bread box, big enough to hold a baby. And that’s what it’s for.
Indiana has debuted Safe Haven Baby Boxes where people can anonymously leave unwanted newborns.
The first box – padded and climate-controlled – was installed at the end of April at a fire station in Woodburn, Ind., about 15 miles east of Fort Wayne.
Set into an outside wall of the building, the box kind of looks like a library book drop-off box. Once a baby is placed inside it locks and an alarm automatically sounds to alert emergency responders.
The Associated Press reports that all 50 states and the District of Columbia have “safe haven” laws that allow parents to anonymously surrender newborns without being prosecuted as long as the child is unharmed.
In Indiana, children younger than 45 days can be anonymously dropped off at fire and police stations, and hospitals.
“This is not criminal. This is legal,” organizer of the baby box campaign, Monica Kelsey, told the AP. “We don’t want to push women away.”
According to the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, safe haven laws have resulted in more than 2,800 safe surrenders since 1999.
But nearly two-thirds of more than 1,400 other children found illegally abandoned have died.
Kelsey herself was abandoned at a hospital by her mother, a rape victim, when she was just two hours old. She is now a volunteer firefighter and anti-abortion advocate.
Indiana is the first state to allow use of baby drop-off boxes on a broad scale. State legislators who advocated for them said they hoped to avoid having babies abandoned in more dangerous places, such as out in the woods.
Baby boxes have been used for years in Europe and Asia, but they are not without controversy.
In 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child argued that European drop-off locations encouraged women to give birth in unsafe and life-threatening situations and to abandon their babies.
Critics also say that the boxes make it easy for women to abandon a child without exploring other options. In China, some baby boxes have been so overwhelmed with abandoned children that they’ve had to be closed.
But Kelsey argues that the anonymity of the baby boxes - which she said should be considered a “last resort” - will encourage women to follow the safe haven laws instead of illegally abandoning their newborns.
Two boxes have been installed so far in Indiana. The Knights of Columbus intends to pay for the first 100 baby boxes, which cost about $1,500 to $2,000 each.