By Anna Shilongo WINDHOEK There is no denying that baby dumping has become a grave social phenomenon that is drawing nationwide attention and condemnation. In general, infants who are discarded are born out of wedlock, unwanted pregnancy after failed family planning or with some physical deformities. The overwhelming majority of the babies being dumped are girls, victims of traditional ideas that value men and disparage women. With the ever-changing society, unwanted pregnancies, which ultimately lead to the dumping and even killing of newborn babies, have become a worrying concern. Despite the fact that concerted efforts are being made about safe sex and the use of condoms as contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies, the problem still persists. As a result, the nation is concerned with an upswing in wife-bashing and other forms of domestic violence that result in cases where mothers attempt or kill their offspring. This worrisome phenomenon is becoming a common practice and a concern to the nation. Of late, the nation has been reading and hearing stories of mothers dumping their offspring in toilets, dustbins and plastic bags or dumping them at people's doors, while other women simply abort. Babies are supposed to be wonderful gifts from above but lately the precious gifts seem to go unnoticed and some mothers forced by circumstances give them away or leave them on doorsteps or in garbage dumpsters as the only solutions. Despite the prevalence of baby dumping, the nation increasingly condemns these social ills. "There are two fundamental questions that Namibians, law abiding citizens, need to answer," said Kanana Hishono of the Swapo Elders' Council during a meeting on social evils recently. What is the cause of this perilous phenomenon? And what can be done to stem the tide?" questioned Hishono. He was of the opinion that there are some aspects of life in society that contribute to the various forms of such violence. Young girls are, therefore, being cautioned not to fall into a trap where men use them and leave them sitting with the problem. Girls are advised to refrain from engaging in immoral behaviour, which they will regret. According to a retired psychologist in a recent interview, many teenagers believe pregnancy shortens their enjoyment of life, while others fear the stigma in their homes and society, hence the abortion. Although it is not legalised in most African countries, backyard abortion is common and can be risky. Many people are convinced that abortion is the lesser evil, compared to killing a human being. A health worker said it might seem to be the easy way out but abortion has a lot of accompanying consequences such as death, infertility and other health problems. Some people die during abortion, she said. However, not all mothers are psychologically stable when it comes to unwanted pregnancy especially after being dumped by the lover before the baby is due. As a result mothers go through depression, which confuses and forces them to abort, she said. Social problems are also said to be major contributing factors to abortion and baby dumping. Hundreds of abortion cases are reported every year in Namibia due to social problems. Statistics also show that many of these abortions occur in urban centres. This includes teenagers, hence contributing significantly to the high maternal morbidity and mortality rate. According to psychologists, women who have been abandoned by a boyfriend or family are in most cases subjects of abortion. While some women decide to abandon their children somedecide to kill the whole family. The unlucky ones are never found, while others are lucky to be dumped near shelter centres. Having been confused by social problems and after a man refused to accept the child, a 31-year-old woman from an informal settlement in Windhoek attempted to get rid of her four-month daughter by dumping her. Since the father denied responsibility of her daughter and she had no means of support she decided to dump the child at the "so-called father" doorstep, after attempting to kill her four times. The unemployed mother who prefers to be called X said she was forced by the situation and she could think of nothing else but to desert her baby and pray that someone could come her way. She said she has no stable life and had tried to get rid of her baby - and lastly dumped the child at her friend's door wrapped in a blanket, without food or clothing. "I was going through a difficult time, I couldn't even afford milk or nappies for my child," she said. This is her third child, and others live with their fathers. This woman was not only psychologically tortured but also had economic hardships and could not support her life and little baby. Asked why mothers get back their dumped babies, one of the social workers said dumped children are still very young and hence need parental love - that's why when the mother is found she is given back her baby. In spite of being given the baby, it must be proven that the mother is physically fit because if mentally disturbed she could harm the child. "Sometimes mothers go through counselling and at the same time are not allowed to get near their kid, unless under total supervision by an official, and this is only done when breastfeeding," she explained. According to research and statistics of those found after abandoning children, most of the perpetrators are young mothers who give birth while still in school. Unwanted pregnancies have been on the increase in Namibia and are a major cause of baby dumping, as most of the young girls are not prepared to take care of the children. "These are also children who are under the care of their parents and are afraid to report their pregnancy at home. They fear being humiliated in public," she said. This is mainly attributed to changes that take place with the body and lack of life skills among the youth. According to most psychologists children need to be taught life skills at an early age to prepare them for such incidents. Adding that they need to be sensitised on what to do in such situations otherwise the problem would continue in society. Irresponsible fathers also contribute to the women's decision to abandon children. Especially when women or families do not have the means to support their children. Most health workers said the problem of baby dumping was worsening daily. The kind of punishment given to the culprit also differed depending on the nature and the circumstances in which the crime was committed. Some mothers abandon their children out of sickness such as mental confusion and epilepsy acquired during pregnancy and other reasons. Some of the other factors leading to baby dumping include early pregnancies, rejection by male partners claimed to have fathered the children, scolding by parents, poverty, and broken marriages. The police are also baffled by cases of mothers who dump their babies at will. One such recent case was of a woman who gave birth and dumped the baby in a bush at Okambode village in Oniipa area. A passerby who was looking for his missing goats discovered the baby in the afternoon. He heard a baby crying and on investigation found the baby wrapped in a blanket on top of a thorn bush. A search was made around the area with the hope to find the mother, but to no avail and the man then reported the case to the nearest police station. It was suspected that the baby was delivered at the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital as it was discovered in the area near the church hospital. The baby is in a healthy condition and up to now police have no clue who the mother of the baby is. Efforts by the police to locate the mother have proved futile. Police went as far as weighing the baby to check against hospital records in an effort to identify the baby. The baby is being cared for at a hospital. The Social Welfare Department also expressed concern over mothers who dump their offspring. There are so many children living under the care of social welfare departments who were forsaken in different parts of the country. The urban centres are said to have contributed large numbers of the dumped children. And as a result the Government is forced to care for these unwanted children. But what is disappointing is that some mothers return to collect their children when they are grown up, claiming that they want to reconcile forgetting that they once dumped them in the street. An 18-year-old boy grew up in the shelter and he has never seen his parents, although he wishes he had a mother or father. Asked what would he do if the parents came looking for him, he said he doesn't believe in reconciliation after 18 years. "I grew up under the care of people who took me as I was their own flesh and blood. They will remain my parents," he added.
2008-05-27 00:00:00 10 years ago