The Italian Almanac

crying baby

Italian News - September 8

Italy is considering reviving the medieval 'baby wheel' which enables desperate mothers to abandon their newborn offspring anonymously. A modern version of the ancient device is to be installed at a big Roman hospital by the end of the year as part of an experiment prompted by a recent rise in the number of newborn babies being abandoned. The wheel, half of which is inside the building and half outside, was a common feature at convents and monasteries until the 19th century. A mother could leave a baby on them without being seen, allowing the nuns to turn the wheel and collect the newborn.

The initiative is partly a response to pressure from Grazia Passeri, the head of Italy's Civil Rights Association, who has been battling for years to stop unwanted babies being left in rubbish bins. "We have to face the fact that a lot of women simply cannot cope with being mothers or become pregnant by accident or through rape," she said. Three dead babies have been found in rubbish bins already this month. It is not known how many babies are left in waste bins every year but Passeri said the figure was probably ten times the number of those that were found.

Maria Burani Procaccini, head of the Italian parliament's Infancy commission, said it was always better to confront problems of this type by trying to prevent mothers getting into desperate situations in the first place. But she admitted it was sometimes inevitable. "The wheel is a medieval instrument, but rubbish bins are becoming chambers of death that weigh on our consciences." Most of the women who leave babies in dustbins these days are believed to be immigrants, many of them in the country illegally and therefore scared to go to a hospital for fear of being turned over to police.

Modern versions of the baby wheel had been successfully introduced in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Apart from a few suggestions that baby wheels might encourage "risky births", there have been few complaints about the idea of setting up revolving cribs in hospital doors.