Safe Haven Laws, Similar To Those in Nebraska Are Passed in Madrid, Spain

Thanks to a new system started by Spain's Department of Family and Social Services, mothers in Madrid unable or unwilling to take care of their newborn infants will be able to quickly and anonymously hand them over for adoption starting next week. A phone call to a 3-digit number will prompt a speedy pick up of the child by an emergency response team from a location designated by the mother. This system was put into place to prevent the random abandonment of babies in the street, which is considered a crime in Spain and is punishable by up to two years in prison.

In the U.S. Safe haven laws comparable to Madrid's new system already exist in all 50 states, but have become a hot topic lately because of a loophole in Nebraska's safe haven law.

A few months ago, Nebraska became the last state in the U.S.A. to pass a safe haven law. Unlike most states which cap the maximum age of children protected under the laws at anywhere from 3 (Colorado and Illinois) to 90 days old (New Mexico)—Nebraska's version does not specify an age limit. This means it defines "children" as all minors under the age of 18, resulting in the abandonment of teenagers and older children by overwhelmed parents who feel as though they no longer can care for their children. The most glaring example of this came in September when a father of 10 abandoned 9 of his children at Omaha Hospital, saying that his wife had recently died and he no longer felt he could handle the burden of raising 10 children on his own.

While these safe haven laws were implemented to prevent infanticide and unsafe newborn abandonment, three dozen children, most of them over the age of 10, have been abandoned since the law was implemented. According to the Chicago Tribune, parents from as far away as Detroit and Atlanta have used this loophole to abandon children they could not parent.

This unexpected result has caused quite the controversy, and Nebraska lawmakers are now trying to pass a bill that would call for an age limit of 30 days. It's also important to address the lack of resources, such as child welfare and mental health services that the loophole has exposed.

The key to a successful implementation of these laws seem to be in the imposition of age limits. What do you think? Do safe haven laws protect children from unsafe abandonment, or encourage it?

-Karina Arrue