"Let's say that nowadays there's no reason to hide that a newborn could bother them. Whether they come from an elegant lady's cabinet or from a farm, whether being arrived in a luxurious carriage or into a knapsack, being arrived wearing embroidered swaddling clothes or wrapped in a wool blanket, all of this it's a household's matter, the family's business, which is friendly considered. They introduce the baby at the reception at the daylight: recommending him to the nuns, repeating carefully the father's name; they drop some tears...and that's all. Afterwards, if the infortunate cries, dies, if sectioned by the anathomist, sewed as a fabric, throwed up into a bag and deposited at the cemetery, it matters very little! The honour is safe, the mother goes to the dancing ballrooms or to the stores, the civilization goes on, the medicine shines with its discoveries, and we have at the University a new career of Politic Economy: it's admirable!...

Sometimes, on rare days, the mother's heart brakes before this horrendous separation; her hands tremble unwrapping the small undershirt with holes; she cries hugging a long time the absent baby who never will call her "mother".

I was told about commotionate adventures, huge pains, real dramas, where the colors of the story refresh its natural fever.

There are women, poor workers, who use to mark the newborns; they hang from their necks a piece of tape, a rosary, an old ring; they gave them a loved first name, begging to the nuns to call them by that name; they come every week, every month, to ask about the victim's condition; they never will be allowed to see them, and in case of desease, they will not receive the body, it will be destined to the benefit of the internal physician's scalpel. Another mothers, not being capable to resist their pain, use a pious fraud and they make them hired themselves as wetnurses, just to can feed their babies. These women would deserve an award to the virtue...."

André Delrieu, Les Enfants-Trouvés, 1831.



Perhaps the children's abandonment should have been, at the ancient times, the most pious way to get rid of them. .

Almost all the ancient civilizations practised the infanticide, which was morally tolerable. The old Greeks, in Sparta, which was a warlike nation, wanted strong soldiers, and when they found a newborn child with some physical defect, they throwed it from the top of a hill, called the Tarpeian Rock. The Egyptians were got rid of the children leaving them to run in baskets on the current of the River Nile. The Chinese were in the habit of making them left in the middle of the rice fields, specially daughters, who didn't help to the economic maintenance of the family.

From the most remote times, the patriarch of the families decided who could or not belong to them. And he decided if it was suitable that a newborn was part of the family or was eliminated. At the old Roman Empire, the patriarches could leave their children exposed in a public square, or to sell them as slaves, or even to negotiate them to pay some debt. Anyway, most of the abandoned childen lasted as slaves, in spite that the roman laws didn't allow it. In an eminently agricultural society, they became a part of the sowings and the culturing workforce. Women, mainly, were destined for the prostitution.

Children's abandonment was , at the old times, frequent, common, accepted and tolerated by the whole society .


The social motivations for the abandonment has always existed: the illegitimacy of the newborn child, being not to be able to confess the paternity for some reason, the incestuous children; children of illicit unions, out of the marriage; children of single mothers, paternity attributed to some enemy of the family's patriarch, etc.

The economic reasons oscillate from frequent wars, leaving families without parents, famines that old societies had to bear, up to the lack of individual resources of the families to support them. In order that other children could survive, the new birth had to be rejected from the house. If they were born twin, sometimes it was necessary to keep only one of them.


Among the most ancient human stories, famous prominent figures were foundlings.

Here are three cases:

Oedipus, character of the Greek mythology, was king of Thebes, and son of Laius and Jocasta. Before he was born, the Oracle prophesied that if Laius should have a son, this son would kill him and marry Jocasta. To avoid that infortunate fate, Laius gave his son to a servant to kill him. But, rather than kill the child, he exposed him in a mountain, hanged from a tree by his ankles, until he was found by a shepperd and delivered to the King of Corynth, Polybus. His wife, Merope, adopt him as her own child, naming him "Oedipus", which means "swelled feet ".

The religious leader Moses was another child throwed from his home. According with the Talmud's ancient stories, the Egypcian Pharaoh commanded that all male Hebrew children born be killed by drowning in the river Nile. Jochebed bore a male son from the Hebrew Amram. She tried to hide him and finally she put the baby in a basquet protected with mood and pitch delivering it to the current of the River Nile. The baby was found by the Pharaoh's daughter, who saved him adopting the baby as her own child. The Hebrew name "Moshé" means "saved from the water".



The founders of Rome , Romulus and Remus, who were twins, were born near the 8th century. They were sons of Rhea Silvia, Apulius' nephew, the king of Alba Longa. Being Rhea Silvia taking a rest at a side of the river Tiber, the god Mars took possesion of her and made her engendrate the twins. To avoid that her uncle, the king Apulius, was noticed, because he didn't allow Rhea Silvia to have children, being her his brother's daughter, overthrowned by himself, she places them in a basket and leaves it on the banks of the Tiber. As the basket was stocked in a nearly coast, a she-wolf find and protects them, and suckles the twins. A shepperd, Faustulus find them, and his wife, Aca Larentia, rises and grows them. Later they will found the new city of Rome in the same point of the coast where the basquet was stocked.



When the Roman Empire is christianized, around the 5th century, the new Constantin laws, influenced by the Catholic Church, condemn as a mortal sin the child abandonment. One of the main reasons was that foundlings could promote the sin of incest: the abandoned girls destined for the prostitution could access, according to the observations of the Church of these times, their own fathers as possible clients. Likewise the Church condemned the possibility of death of the left babies, because of the cold, the lack of assistance, or the epidemics, as infanticide, which means a mortal sin. This way it is described by the Carthaginian leader of the Church Tertulian (160-220), in his Apologeticus pro Christianis: "..."It is certainly the more cruel way to kill, by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs."


At the Roman Empire of the first centuries, between the 1st and 3rd centuries, from 20 % to 40 % of all the births ended up by being foundlings. No Roman law forbbided the child abandonment. Saint Augustine, who had begun with a strong condemnation and disapproval to this practice, ended for admitting that the parents in extreme condition of poverty had really very few options, and then he addressed his critiques to parents who exposed their children having other options to save them. Saint Ambrose (Sant'Ambrogio), Archbishop of Milan in the 3rd century, accepted that " it was necessary to pass from the condemnation to the resignation", since for more efforts that were done, the problem of the abandonment would continue existing. From that age the efforts of the Church are focused in containing the problem creating homes of assistance for the abandoned children, and receiving them in the same core of the institution. For then the condemnation towards the parents is flexibilized and they start to tolerate the abandonment as an inevitable social phenomenon. Since then comes the habit of leaving the children in the gates, or thresholds of the churches.



Roughly from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, Western Europe achieved a complete civilization and a complete culture of its own, influenced by the strong presence of the Church in the society. The Barbarian kingdoms adopted many of the Roman customs, and amongst them, the child abandonment. From the years 1000 to 1200 the rates of abandonment decrease, coming back to increase due to the pest and the famines near the 14th century. During this period, there are a confluence of customs of the Roman Empire and those of the Barbarian kingdoms: germans, goths, visigoths, celts. The Visigothic Code, or Lex romana visigothorum, talks about the right to take as slaves the abandoned children.

The costumes of germanic kingdoms related with heritages stablished that they must be equally divided between all the sons or daughters. Sometimes, to avoid the family property were too fractionated, running out of the clan's control, the pater familiae used to reduce the number of children, exposing them at the streets. When the new costumes implement the heritages should be only for the elder son, -costume inherited from the Roman right-, the abandonment is reduced, decreasing the children exposition on public places. On this period is also developed the concept of nobility and feudalism, and for the new "noble" families the abandonment was not a nice social practice.

On the 13th and 14th centuries, hospices destined to receive foundlings were widespread in all European countries, like France, Italy, Spain and Germany. The Catholic Church condemned the abortion and insisted about the sex as an only procreational objective, which promoted more abandonment, being necessary more places to contain them. Also contributed a huge population's growing and the absence of birth control. In general, conditions of asylums were unhealthy, having a high rate of mortality: near 80% of children population didn't survive. On the other hand, the increase of number of these hospices modifies certain social conditions: Although foundlings were formerly hosted in familar houses, as servants, their seclusion in hospices creates a new social stigma: declassed people, people who have lost their identity and their sense of belonging, incommunicated with the rest of the society.

The most known ancient records of abandonment in hospices date back to Florence on the 2nd half of the 15th century. There is recorded the case of a Florentine weaver that, when he remained a widower, delivered 4 of his 7 children to San Gallo's hospital.

If the parents tried to recover their babies after being some time at the hospices, they must reimbourse to the institution all the expenses caused by the hospitality. By that reason, there are recorded very few cases of children recovering.


This term, originally referred to an offering to a divinity, was used in the Middle Age to name a common practice that the Church started to implement with the object of get a solution for the abandonment problem. It was then used for the voluntary donation of children, for life, to the convents. This innovation begun at the 5th century and was pretty well set upright at the 7th century. It was an alternative solution for the families who had to get rid of their children. Those babie devoted in oblation wouldn't be exposed to cruel conditions outdoors, to pests and animals; they wouldn't get sick at the hospices, they either wouldn't be used as slaves or servants, and they will pray to God for their families for all their lives. Those Convents of Oblates existed for a long time in Europe and they were certainly a solution for the unfortunate condition of abandoned children.


There's no doubt that the hospices were created for not leaving in the street thousands of exposed children, facing an almost secure death, because of the lack of food, cold, rains, snow, exposed to the street dogs and countless epidemics. But, paradoxically, the whole system itself -with exception of those children devoted in oblation to the convents-, did not more than traspass the index of high mortality from the street to the hospitals. The condition of those asylums, old houses, in general with a lack of air and ventilation, uncomfortables, and always overflown in their occupancy, with bad hygienic conditions and the newborns exposed to be feed by wetnurses with contagious illneses, didn't achieve to save too many lives, but only to clean the streets of that social embarrasement.