The issue of baby Catherine is generating so much interest that there’s a dedicated line at the Department of Human Services in Victoria to deal with the situation.

A Google News search (forgive the Joogalism) shows that baby Catherine is not alone in being abandoned. Over the last week a four-year-old Japanese boy was abandoned in a “baby hatch”, in South Africa a mother left her baby next to a dustbin having given birth to her in a public toilet and in New Delhi, parents returned to the baby they abandoned.

But it’s a pretty rare occurrence in Australia. As for statistics, there are no official numbers on the issue, a Victorian Department of Human Services spokesman tells Crikey, but anecdotally it’s probably “one baby in Victoria every one to two years”.

Australia’s adoption statistics echo this infrequency, which partly explains the rush of adoption offers for Catherine (apart from her evident cuteness). In 2004-05, there were only 65 local adoptions (of Australian citizens/permanent residents) compared with 434 intercountry adoptions, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics. Local adoptions continue to decline while intercountry adoptions are on the up.

So too the number of children not living with their parents. Between 1997 and 2003 children in out-of-home care (including foster care) rose by 45%, an increase of 6,318 children. (AIHW, 2004). As of 30 June 2003 there were 20,297 Australian children living in out-of-home care.

Meanwhile, making sure abandoned babies stay safe is a big issue. That’s why one California hospital has a how-to-abandon guide, reports The Age. In Germany and Japan the use of “baby hatches” is still controversial though a fascinating Wikipedia history of baby hatches (forgive the Wikijournalism) shows that they’ve been around since medieval times.