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A nun is seen in the window of a baby hatch, or “Window of Life,” inside the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto residence in Warsaw, Poland, on 16 December. When the Polish capital's first “Life Window” was dedicated in 2006, it was one of dozens newly installed around Europe, as a safe place for unwilling mothers to leave their babies. (photo: CNS/Jonathan Luxmoore) 

23 Jan 2013 – By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — On a damp street in Warsaw, not far from St. Florian’s Cathedral, a tiny mattress lies on display behind a safety-glass window, installed at waist height on a dull gray wall.

To the left, a door sign reads “Sisters of Our Lady of Loretto.” Across the teeming thoroughfare, a multistory hospital gazes down over rutted sidewalks.

When the Polish capital’s first “life window” was dedicated in 2006, it was one of dozens newly installed around Europe, as a safe place for unwilling mothers to leave their babies.

Today, controversy is growing, as an influential U.N. committee charges that the windows violate children's rights.

“We’re not encouraging mothers to get rid of their children,” Agnieszka Homan, spokeswoman for the Polish church’s Caritas charity, told Catholic News Service. “Although newborns can be left legally in state hospitals, some are still being dumped outside in the cold. These life windows offer a facility where women who don’t want to give birth in [a] hospital can leave them anonymously, without endangering their lives.”

Historians believe Europe’s first baby hatch, life window or foundling wheel, was opened in Rome under Pope Innocent III in 1198. Most hatches were closed in the 19th century, as state social care expanded.

However, they began to reopen at the end of the 20th century, as more babies were abandoned amid economic hardship and social breakdown.

Most now consist of heated incubators with simple sign-directions, which trigger a bell or buzzer when a baby is deposited inside.

Newborns, usually left at night, are taken to a hospital and kept nearby for several weeks in case the parents reclaim them.

In Krakow, Poland, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth opened a life window in 2006. When a baby was left there last fall, a card was found: “Casper, I’m sorry. I love you very much — Mum.”

“We were woken by the alarm at night and ran down, and we saw a beautiful boy lying in the window,” Sister Jozefina told the Catholic Gosc Niedzielny weekly.

“The card really touched us, since we sensed the mother must have really struggled. ... We wonder what made her give up her own child, and we're supporting such women with our prayers.”

When another boy was left in Krakow on 31 December, a note was found: “My heart is breaking, but I have to do this — please find him good parents.”

“At first, I thought it was a bag with clothes — but I waited a moment, since I sensed there was someone on the other side of the wall,” one of the nuns told TVN, a Polish commercial television network. “The child was cheerful and looked healthy. So we wrapped him up and he slept in my arms till the ambulance came.”

While abandoning children is illegal in Britain and other countries, 11 of the European Union’s 27 member-states now allow hatches, which are estimated to have received around 500 babies continent-wide in a decade. Germany has about 80 baby hatches, and Austria has 15.

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Tags: Children Orphans/Orphanages Eastern Europe Poland