‘Baby Safe Haven’ would cause more harm than good
This is in response to Rep. John Mizuno's June 12 "Gathering Place" column
regarding House Bill 1830
. Gov. Linda Lingle is considering whether she should sign, veto or allow this bill to become law. She vetoed a similar measure in 2003 and this new bill raises many of the same concerns.
The Lingle-Aiona administration shares the goal of ensuring that every child in Hawaii has a safe and secure home. However, while this bill sounds good, it would actually work to the detriment of the child and those who care about our keiki.
Enactment of this bill would allow anyone to anonymously abandon an infant within 72 hours of birth at a hospital, fire or police station, or with emergency medical services personnel as long as the infant is left in an unharmed condition.
People abandoning infants would not be required to identify themselves or to demonstrate their relationship to the infant. As such, it would be impossible to determine if the person leaving the infant was lawfully in possession of the infant at the time of abandonment. In this regard, House Bill 1830 provides no safeguards to protect the rights of both parents to seek custody of their child. Similarly, there are no safeguards to allow extended family members, especially grandparents, to assert their interests in caring for the infant.
The baby also would be prevented from learning about its medical and genealogical history, which could have health implications for an infant, particularly later in life.
Unlike other states, Hawaii provides a number of programs that provide benefits based on one's ancestral roots. Enactment of this bill would preclude abandoned children of Hawaiian ancestry from knowing of, or being able to prove, their blood quantum to qualify for housing, schooling or other benefits.
In addition, these laws that have been popular on the mainland fail to take into account Hawaiian culture and social norms. The extended family is commonly recognized to be an integral part of our nuclear family. In addition, and unlike the mainland states, the Hawaii cultural practice of open adoption or "hanai" is still common.
During the 2007 legislative session, additional concerns were expressed regarding this bill. In particular, enactment of HB 1830 might lead some women, who would ordinarily relinquish their child via adoption proceedings, to take the more expedient route of abandoning their infants.
It is important to note that the Department of Human Services has received no reports in Hawaii for the past nine years of the type of child abandonment, such as leaving a child in a dumpster or public restroom, this bill is supposed to address.
Adoption is the preferable approach for parents to surrender their parental rights because adoption proceedings provide a mechanism by which the medical history and the genealogical history of the infant might be determined and verified. In addition, adoption procedures provide a mechanism to safeguard the rights of the infant's father and to ascertain if the father or members of the parents' extended families are willing and able to adopt the infant.
This administration remains committed to protecting the welfare of all children and will continue its comprehensive efforts to provide the full array of supportive services and nurturing environments that young mothers and their newborns deserve.
Linda L. Smith is Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser.