History of baby boxes and savers.

Image courtesy of Vintagenews.com

Baby Boxes and Savers - the Ripple Effect

Door of Hope Children’s Mission founder, Pastor Cheryl Allen, installed the first ‘modern day’ Baby Box (Saver) at their premises in Berea, Johannesburg, in July 1999. Later on that year a lady from Germany came to visit their Baby Box and subsequently installed one in Hamburg in April 2000. 

After Germany began installing Baby Boxes (Savers), they had visitors from Japan and Switzerland who then took this concept back to their countries. Poland went to visit Switzerland in 2006, which resulted in them proceeding with installation of 60 Baby Savers in honour of Pope John Paul II – a great ‘life defender’ (the Catholic Church had provided places for mothers to leave their babies anonymously if they could not look after them in the 1400 / 1500s).

In 2008, New BeginninZ installed their first baby saver which was the second saver to be installed in South Africa.

One year later a Pastor in South Korea had a few babies abandoned in front of his home. This prompted him to do some research into child abandonment in developing countries and resulted in him installing a Baby Saver in 2009. By 2011 Russia and Latvia had also come on board. 

In 2013 Monica Kelsey (an abandoned infant herself) visited South Africa from the USA, where she saw the Baby Saver at the King of Kings Church in Sun Valley, Cape Town. She went on to launch the Safe Haven Baby Boxes organisation in America (where many states have a Safe Haven Law in place, but unsafe abandonment continues to be an issue). 

In that same year a second Baby Saver was opened in Wellington in the Cape, followed by the Helderberg Baby Saver in Somerset West in 2014. There are now over 30 operational Baby Savers in South Africa.

Nadene Grabham, Director of Door of Hope was proud to represent South Africa at the 14th annual Asia Health and Baby Box Symposium in Kumamoto Japan in early 2018, along with 10 other countries. Here it emerged that India had installed a “baby saver” as early as 1978 (however this was simply a wicker basket outside the door of an orphanage at night).  There are now Baby Boxes / Savers in almost every country in the world.

The chain reaction that has spread across the globe started in South Africa because of a baby that was found alive on the Queen Elizabeth bridge who died whilst journalists were taking photos, and subsequently, another dead baby was dumped in the rubbish bin of the Deacon in the Church where Cheryl Allen was the pastor. Thanks to her actions in trying to provide a safer option for desperate mothers, there has been a ripple effect around the world which has saved many lives.  

Sadly, our abandonment rates remain high in South Africa and are up there with India and China although we have a quarter of the population size, and often our abandonments are far more violent.

In 2020, Dr Whitney Rosenberg was awarded her PhD by the University of Johannesburg based on her research spanning 5 years titled “The Legal Regulation of Infant Abandonment in South Africa”. Her research uncovered a solution to unsafe infant abandonment which is being employed in several countries in the world. Dr Rosenberg did an in-depth investigation into the legalities surrounding baby savers from the time of their inception. She also explored the other methods of safe relinquishment such as anonymous birth and confidential birth as well as safe haven laws. Dr Rosenberg furthermore investigated the constitutional aspects surrounding these laws and the basis upon which they should be instituted in South Africa. Her research has seen her present at several international conferences such as the ATINER conference on law in Athens, Greece in 2015; the ISFL in Amsterdam in 2017 as well as the IVR conference in Switzerland in 2019. She has also presented on the need for these laws at several local conferences in South Africa. Dr Rosenberg also has several publications in accredited law journals that emphasise the need for these laws to be implemented in South Africa. This research was the spring board for the campaign to legalise baby savers in South Africa and the motivation behind the establishment of Baby Savers SA.

In February 2021, Dr Whitney Rosenberg (Senior law lecturer) and Nadene Grabham drafted a law proposal based on Dr Rosenberg’s thesis where Dr Rosenberg initially drafted and proposed these laws and this was presented to parliament. The proposal aims to legalise safe relinquishment of a baby through a Baby Saver. They co-founded Baby Savers SA and were joined by founding members Sandy Immelman (Helderberg Baby Saver) and Tahiyya Hassim (New BeginninZ).   A national coalition with the aim of ending unsafe baby abandonment in South Africa.