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The 'scourge' of baby dumping

Baby dumping: These words evoke an array of emotions ranging from anger, disgust, deep pain to disappointment. Baby dumping also raises the burning question of why a mother would want to throw her tiny, helpless infant away.

This is a baby that she has carried inside her body for nine months; a baby that she should have bonded with while it was in her womb. What is it then that drives a mother to throw her baby away?

Baby dumping is a crime, but it is also a cry for help. By definition, baby dumping refers to mothers abandoning or discarding a child younger than 12 months in a public or private place with the intent of disposing it.

The causes of baby dumping include many social and cultural factors as well as mental illness. However, poverty is often a root cause of child abandonment. Another common reason for baby dumping is teenage pregnancy.

Teenagers experience problems during and after childbirth due to social and psychological distress. In many cases, abandonment is an alternative to abortion. Baby dumping continuously makes news with glaring headlines like ‘newborn baby dumped in drain miraculously rescued’ and ‘miracle baby rescued after being dumped in sewer’.

In some countries, such as Malaysia, baby dumping has become an epidemic with 517 cases reported between 2005 and January 2011, an average of 100 annually. Closer to home, baby dumping has reached crisis proportions in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

A January report by the Namibia Press Agency said about 40 babies and foetuses are dumped or flushed down toilets every month in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. In Botswana, police records indicate that at least 450 babies suffered this fate in 2010.

450 babies dumped annually translates into about 30 a month, which is alarming. Over the Easter Holidays, six babies were found dumped in different places in and around Gaborone and were sent to Princess Marina Hospital before a form of blessing in disguise presented itself when they were all adopted by various mothers at once.

Just last week, the Member of Parliament for Palapye, Mr Moiseraele Goya expressed concern about the high rate of teenage pregnancy. He noted that between January and March, 143 students dropped out of school due to pregnancy in the Central District and Palapye Sub-district.

Maikano Youth Wellness Organisation chairperson, Mr Nkosi Bentu recetly described baby dumping as rejecting and throwing a baby away after birth and exposing it to danger and death. They organised a mini workshop on baby dumping and infanticide last month.

Mr Bentu said as an organisation that campaigns against baby dumping they are particularly concerned about the increase in the incidence of baby dumping, concealment of birth, child neglect , abandonment and infanticide in Botswana.

He noted that the profile of the women who abandon, conceal, or kill their infants is clear; she is more often than not poor, single, and under the age of twenty-five; she is often a first-time mother or she is most likely to have less than Form Five level of education.

He also stated that the perpetrators is likely to have reported physical, sexual and emotional abuse in her family of origin (especially in blended families), and later, in her intimate relationships. He further noted that evidence suggests that often the father would have denied the pregnancy, and the parent would have reacted with extreme anger, driving the young woman into isolation during pregnancy.

Mr Bentu pointed out that women dump their infants generally have made no plans for the birth or care of their child and get no prenatal care. Furthermore, they are often not mature enough to thoughtfully weigh their options or the consequences of their actions.

Reasons for dumping their infants include extramarital paternity, rape, and illegitimacy and perceiving the child as an obstacle to personal achievement, Mr Bentu explained. Maikano Youth Wellness Organisation believes that these issues are still to capture the attention and evoke a response from political leaders and policy makers.

“We believe that Botswana can still actively search for alternative methods to protect new-borns by paying attention to the factors that skew the experiences of poor mothers toward un-moderated vulnerability.

All the deaths associated with these incidents are in fact preventable. Fortunately, there is evidence that this situation can be turned around, but concerted efforts from different stakeholders are needed. We further assert that current response systems do not reflect empathy, an ethic of care and compassion, comprehensiveness and integration. These responses are often ill-timed, disconnected, and vengeful”, he said.

Mr Bentu appealed for the speedy review of the Adoption Act of 1952 saying it is outdated. He also called on government to conduct new research on baby dumping and to engage retired social workers to counsel first time pregnant mothers to avoid such incidents.

Head of the Child Protection Services Division (Department of Social Services) in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Ms Ookame Mokabathebe said the government has made commendable achievements in issues affecting children and one success story is the Adoption Act of 1952 which is currently under review.

Ms Mokabathebe said the Adoption Act also caters for children that have been abandoned by their mothers adding that many children who have been dumped by their parents have been adopted.

Speaking at the workshop organised by Maikano Youth Wellness Organisation in June, the Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Dr Gloria Somolekae said there is now a familiar but shocking catalogue of stories of lifeless infants being dragged by dogs, of foetuses blocking flush toilets, of desperate cries of infants in pit latrines and children lying cold by the road side, to mention a few.

Dr Somolekae said resorting to infanticide and baby dumping for some women may be a response to chronic strains that result from deprivations, vulnerabilities and desire for alternative forms of survival. She said being a young woman with poor education; no vocational skills and a number of dependent children present multiple barriers for women.

“Transcending these barriers presents challenges that require resilience and the opportunity to escape from gender and class entrapment of poverty.

Children born into situations of poverty sometimes have difficulty moving beyond their low socio-economic status,” she said. Baby dumping can be viewed as a cry for help from young women who in many cases are struggling to survive. With an increase in incidents of baby dumping, NGO’s need to work hand in hand with government to find a solution. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Thamani Shabani

Location : GABORONE

Event : Interview

Date : Jul 17 Wed,2013


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