Something To Ponder

Sleeping baby

The Abandoned Babies of South Africa

According to the latest report by the Medical Research Council, cases of child abandonment in South Africa are on a dramatic rise. Statistics say around 3 500 children abandoned in South Africa every year. Of these, 65% of the abandoned infants are newborn. The report’s findings state that a child born in South Africa is at the highest risk of being killed during its first six days of life. This is shocking and heartbreaking.

There are many reasons why a mother would choose to abandon their newborn child. Some it is because of poverty, they feel they cannot provide for a baby at that particular time. Others it is stigma, the society will judge them harshly if they have a baby without a father or out of wedlock. While still others will abandon their children because the circumstances surrounding the baby’s conception were traumatic to the mother. The baby could have been conceived through incest or rape.

Whatever the reason, the manner in which a mother decides to give up their baby matters. There are those who will approach an adoption agency and state their intention to give up their baby for adoption immediately they are born. Others give birth in hospital and walk out leaving the baby behind. The most harrowing is when a child is wrapped in a polythene bag and thrown in a pit latrine or in the dump site, left for the dogs to devour. These are the ones who make up the big number that dies before they are six days old.

The adoption laws in South Africa have been such that licensed agencies are able to work alongside the government in processing the babies who qualify for adoption. Still, even with such adoption agencies, the backlog of children awaiting adoptions is very high. With the intended change in the adoption laws, these private adoption agencies will cease to exist and the government social services providers will have to handle the cases by themselves. Soon, the system will be clogged up and will be unable to accept or handle new babies.

This is going to pose a real danger to the yet unborn children because when the mother’s can no longer go to a place where they can safely leave their baby, when the system can no longer accept to take on new cases, what is there for these desperate women to do? More cases of abandoned infants in toilets, dump sites and bushes will occur. Already, the system is groaning under the weight of such cases that need to be finalised, and this with private agencies carrying some of this burden. What will the future look like when only the government agencies handle the whole process?

Lucy Thairu