SANTO DOMINGO, Ecuador – The discovery of a newborn baby in a cardboard box near a city dump is the latest case of abandoned babies in Ecuador, which has led an order of nuns to create what they call their Cradle of Life, which starts at a window where new mothers – protected by anonymity – can leave their unwanted infants.
During this year alone, three newborns were found in a trash can in the southwestern city of Guayaquil, plus a dead baby in a wastebasket in Quito.
As part of the nuns’ Babies in Heaven program, 36 fetuses and babies were buried in Quito in 2018 that had been abandoned under different circumstances in the provinces of Pichincha, Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas and Tungurahua.
The Polish nun Ewa Pilarska, a member of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters, also told EFE about the case of a newborn abandoned in Cuenca that was eaten by dogs in 2017.
Such tragedies are what led them to provide a safe place for babies without exposing or judging the mothers.
The first Cradle of Life was established in Germany in 1999 and, while the project is new in Ecuador, it is backed by the Happy Valley Home, which in an area of 3 hectares (7½ acres) currently shelters 44 at-risk minors from highly troubled families.
Those little ones are distributed in five neat and clean three-story houses that operate autonomously.
The youngsters go to school, return in a van of the institution, do their homework, go to workshops, play in a spectacular garden or on a basketball court near the Cradle of Life, inaugurated at the beginning of this month and which, with time, will welcome its next “brother or sister.”
The project operates in the city of Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas at some three hours southwest of Quito.
Located on one side of the main entrance to the Happy Valley Home, the Cradle of Life features a mural of two large hands rocking a baby to sleep.
Close to that is a bell that operates a little window. When it opens, the mother finds a cradle inside with a letter that guarantees the best of care for her baby, that the police will be notified and that the little one will be given an immediate medical checkup.
Once the mother leaves the baby in the cradle, a device is triggered that in five seconds automatically closes the window before the cradle is moved to the right. At the same time an alarm is sounded by the mobile phones of the nuns in charge, who rush to the cradle within minutes.
Safe outside, but also inside. From within the Happy Valley Home, the sisters, alerted by the alarm, must enter the code to unlock the door to the room with the cradle, while a second security requirement obliges them to enter their fingerprints.
Upon arrival they are expected to pick up the baby, rock it and bundle it up, all under the watchful eye of a video camera that records their every movement in the Cradle of Life, which operates around the clock.
If the baby is returned after the medical exam, a teacher in the house chosen for it is designated to be its mother figure, while members of one of the five houses are prepared to receive a new member of the “family,” the psychologist Leonela Valarezo told EFE.
If the mother returns, Valarezo will assess the causes and sequel of the abandonment, as well as full information about the woman’s partner, since “we must assume as a society that the male is as responsible as the female, because a child is not conceived alone.”
Jaime Salvatierra, attorney of Happy Valley Home, told EFE that the project seeks to avoid children being left in the streets and aims to “decriminalize the mother,” since Ecuadorian law punishes with one to three years in prison the crime of child desertion in places not suitable for their care and protection.