Nobody’s child left to die

Killed or abandoned out-of-wedlock newborns are on the rise, with little or no hope of normal lives for those who survive
By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Dumped in drains or left in the woods, babies are being abandoned and left to die by their mothers. Only a few fortunate ones survive. According to the latest police statistics, January 2012 recorded 26 incidents of abandoned babies, while in 2011, 206 incidents of abandoned babies were reported.

Kerala takes steps to save unwanted infants
The Social Welfare Department in Kerala, India, came up with an initiative to prevent abandoning of infants by setting up a unit called ‘Amma Thottil’ (mother’s cradle) at the premises of the general hospital with a separate entrance, where unwanted babies can be handed over in privacy and secrecy.

On March 27, a three-day-old baby covered with ants, was discovered in a wooded area behind a tourist hotel in Matara. The infant was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of Matara General Hospital.

In another case this year, a one-year-old was found crammed in a drain in Dharga Town, Alutgama. A majority of these abandoned newborns go unreported, but recently, a number of such incidents were reported due to the vigilance of the public, said Police Spokesman SP Ajith Rohana.

On April 3, a case of infanticide was reported from Dodangoda, Kalutara, where an underage mother killed her one-month-old by throwing it into a well. A family dispute resulted in baby Shanuki dying at the hands of her 17-year-old mother, who tied her tiny feet and hands, before throwing her into the well.

The three-day old baby who was found covered in ants in Matara being attended to by hospital staff. Pix by S. Siriwardene

SP Rohana said that on January 3, a woman was arrested in Valachchenai for burning her newborn alive, while last December, a woman was arrested in Menikhinna for strangling her baby just after birth.
According to the law, abandoning an infant is an offence punishable under torture in the Penal Code of Children & Young Persons Ordinance, with sentences up to 20 years in prison.

“However, instead of imposing strictures, it is important for the government and non-government organizations to come forward and deal with unwanted pregnancies in a more humane manner”“Abandoning babies is now emerging as a serious social issue,” said Save the Children (Advocacy), Director Menaca Calyaratne.

She said, “Giving birth to children out of wedlock, puts a lot of pressure on women and is considered a stigma in our society. Hence, women are compelled to abandon their children in such instances. Especially, those coming to urban areas for employment, end up with unwanted pregnancies, and unable to go back to their villages, they abandon the newborn out of desperation.”

She said that it has come to light recently, that 80% of mothers with young children are experiencing stress which can seriously affect their mental wellbeing.

“Since our society does not acknowledge or address mental disorders in its early stages, it could develop into severe levels including destructive behaviour on the part of the mother. Unfortunately, men involved in these relationships are not supportive at all, and leave the women to suffer throughout their pregnancy,” she said.

Little Shanuki was thrown into this well by her mother.

Ms. Calyaratne said that her personal experience has been a shortage of caregivers at receiving homes, both at State and private voluntary homes where abandoned children bereft of much needed attention are left to fend for themselves.

“It is heartbreaking to see these infants swaying to and fro constantly to comfort themselves, in the absence of care and attention,” she said.

With the alarming increase in the number of abandoned children, the national body for the protection of children, the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) is to collaborate with civil societies, to conduct awareness programmes on unwanted pregnancies and safe sex in rural areas, where a baby born out of wedlock is considered taboo, and is killed or abandoned, even with the blessings of the elders.

“Sex education should be seriously taught in schools, and we will be discussing this with the Education Ministry. Even married women are ignorant of safe sex, while unmarried mothers, to avoid social stigma, abandon their newborns and suffer throughout their lives,” said NCPA Chairman Anoma Dissanayake.
She said that a proposal has been made to the Ministry of Women & Children Affairs to impose capital punishment for rape and gang rape cases, as a majority of the unwanted pregnancies are a result of sexual abuse.

“We have also made a request to the Ministry of Justice to amend the Bail Act for those involved in rape,” she said. Ms Dissanayake requested organizations to work with the Ministry to set up homes for unmarried women to stay throughout their pregnancies up to its delivery, and leave the baby behind, if they so desire.

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