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An anonymous birth is a birth where the mother gives birth to a child without disclosing her identity, or where her identity remains unregistered. In many countries, anonymous births have been legalized for centuries in order to prevent formerly frequent killings of newborn children, particularly outside of marriage.
In an anonymous birth, the mother's right of informational self-determination severely curtails the children's right to know about their biological ancestry, therefore going beyond the concept of a confidential birth, where the identity of the mother is registered but remains undisclosed, unless the grown up child requests disclosure at a later point.
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In France, the tradition of anonymous births can be traced to 1638 when Vincent de Paul who instituted the tour, a form of baby hatch. During the French Revolution anonymous births were legalized in 1793, when Article 326 of the Code Civil introduced both the concepts of anonymous and confidential births. The decree provided for the creation of safe spaces for women to give birth safely. In 1811 the assistance was replaced with a system of baby hatches. This however caused a surge in abandoned babies and was never fully implemented and officially abolished in 1904. Since that time all hospitals must provide wards where women can give birth anonymously. In 2002 a 'national council for access to personal origins' (CNAOP) is created to mediate between the anonymous mothers and children. The birth mother is asked to leave information about their identity behind in a sealed envelope that can be opened by the CNAOP if the child ever asks so that the birth mother can be contacted. However, the information will not be given to the child without consent.
In 2003 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a case involving anonymous birth in Odièvre v. France. The applicant's mother had given birth anonymously and when the applicant later asked for more information she was only given non-identifying information. The applicant appealed to the Court citing article 8 of the ECHR stating that it was a violation to the right to a family life. The Court noted that the case could not simply be viewed as a conflict between the rights of the birth mother and the child, but also affected the rights of the adoptive parents and any family of the birth mother. The Court ruled that, given that the recently created National Council on Access to Information about Personal Origins presented avenue to contact the birth mother in a controlled way, that the state had attempted to strike a sufficient balance between the competing right and the application was denied.
- Marshall, Jill (2008). Personal Freedom through Human Rights Law?: Autonomy, Identity and Integrity under the European Convention on Human Rights. BRILL. p. 127. ISBN 9789047412083.
- Lefaucheur, Nadine (2004-12-01). "The French 'tradition' of Anonymous Birth: The Lines of Argument". International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family. 18 (3): 319–342. doi:10.1093/lawfam/18.3.319. ISSN 1360-9939.
- Odièvre v. France [GC], no. 42326/98, ECHR 2003-III, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2003:0213JUD004232698