Net cafes becoming delivery rooms for poor pregnant girls
Around 8 p.m. on Sept 29, a 30-year-old woman gave birth in the restroom of an Internet cafe near Yokohama Station. Then, says Shukan Shincho (Oct 16), she returned to her booth and resumed reading her manga comic book. About 40 minutes later, a cleaner found the infant in a plastic garbage bag by the sinks. She called police. By the time they arrived, the infant, a boy, had stopped breathing. They successfully resuscitated him.
“Are you the mother?” they asked the 30-year-old woman. She denied it, but a female officer, pursuing the matter, found the woman’s panties soaked with blood. She was taken to hospital, and subsequently charged with abandoning her baby.
Net cafes began as venues for cyber-surfing or manga-reading in the privacy of a quiet cubicle. The “working poor” phenomenon turned them into places of nightly refuge for people who, though in many cases employed, find a fixed address beyond their means. Now, Shukan Shincho fears, they are seen by a growing number of rootless pregnant women as a delivery room of last resort.
The Yokohama case was not the first of its kind. Last November, a 23-year-old woman gave birth at a Net cafe in Saga City, Kyushu, and left the baby in a train station coin locker. She was given a two-year sentence—suspended for three years—for abandoning a corpse
Net cafes aside, gynecologists are concerned about a growing number of women who go through an entire pregnancy without medical care and then abruptly show up at a hospital at the onset of labor pains. There are risks of various sorts involved—most, though not all, of a medical nature. The gravest, of course, is death—the infant mortality rate in such cases is an estimated 18 times higher than normal. Premature birth and infectious disease passed on from mother to child are two others. A fourth is the possibility of not making it to the hospital in time. Births have been known to occur in the ambulance while the crew frantically searches for a hospital able to accommodate the emergency.
The principal non-medical risk is financial. Only one-quarter of mothers in this situation pay their hospital bills, Shukan Shincho hears from the Kanagawa Children’s Health Center. Twelve percent are runaways, reports a separate study cited by the magazine. Twenty-seven percent are not enrolled in the national health insurance program. Failing to enroll, they forfeit a 350,000 yen lump-sum maternity allowance.
“There are no precise statistics,” says Masataka Togashi of the NPO Independent Life Support Center, “but my feeling is that the number of women in their 20s and 30s with no place to live is rising.”
Shukan Shincho recalls with a shudder the string of “coin locker baby” episodes of the 1970s—a seeming epidemic of babies abandoned in coin lockers. “Are Net cafes,” it demands, “the latest substitute? Let’s put a stop to this appalling story before it goes any further.”