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A 'baby box' and a home for unwanted infants in South Korea

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

A baby abandoned in a "baby box" at Joosarang church waits for a medical examination at a children's hospital in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept. 19. Pastor Lee Jong-rak of the church, who runs a "baby box" where mothers can leave unwanted infants, has seen a sharp increase in the number of newborns being left there because, the pastor says, of a new law aimed protecting the rights of children. South Korea is trying to shed a reputation of being a source of babies for adoption by people abroad. It is encouraging domestic adoption and tightening up the process of a child's transfer from birth mother to adoptive parents.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

A policeman talks on a phone as preacher Jeong Young-ran looks on after a mother abandoned her baby at a "baby box" at Joosarang church in Seoul on Sept. 18.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

A police officer collects DNA samples from two abandoned babies after the babies were left at a "baby box" at Joosarang church in Seoul on Sept 20.

Reuters -- South Korean pastor who runs a "baby box" where mothers can leave unwanted infants has seen a sharp increase in the number of newborns being left there because, the pastor says, of a new law aimed at protecting the rights of children.

South Korea is trying to shed a reputation of being a source of babies for adoption by people abroad. It is encouraging domestic adoption and tightening up the process of a child's transfer from birth mother to adoptive parents.

The law that took effect in August is aimed at ensuring adoption is more transparent and makes it mandatory for parents to register newborns if they want to give them up.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak adjusts the blanket around an abandoned two-week-old baby boy in a "baby box" at Joosarang church in Seoul on Sept. 18.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Ward officials, who did not want to be identified, hold abandoned babies as they head to a child advocacy center after the babies had undergone checkups at a children's hospital in Seoul on Sept. 19.

But the regulation aimed at seeing more thorough records are kept, though well intentioned, has sparked a surge of undocumented babies being abandoned, said Pastor Lee Jong-rak.

"If you look at the letters that mothers leave with their babies, they say they have nowhere to go, and it's because of the new law," Lee told Reuters.

Lee, who opened his "baby box" for unwanted infants three years ago, said he had seen the number being left there shoot up from an average of five a month to 10 in August and 14 in September.

Despite the new law, Lee said he never forced mothers to provide information about the babies they leave in the box, built into the wall of his church in Nangok, a tough working-class neighborhood in the capital, Seoul.

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Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Pastor Lee Jong-rak plays with Lee On-u, 6, a disabled child who was abandoned, at the Joosarang church in Seoul on Sept. 20.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak carries a baby, abandoned a day earlier at a "baby box" at his Joosarang church, to hand it over to ward officials as portraits of other abandoned children raised and adopted by him are seen on a wall of the church in Seoul on Sept. 20.

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