On Monday morning, an infant baby who was believed to be approximately three months old was discovered abandoned close to a stream in Dawncrest, KwaZulu-Natal.
A man was picking mangoes when he discovered the baby at the base of an embankment next to a stream in the vicinity of a soccer court, as stated in a statement that was issued by Reaction Unit South Africa (RUSA).
“The baby was found with a bag that contained nappies, a bottle of milk and a pacifier that was lying next to her,”
“In the note, the mother requested that authorities be notified when the baby was found, saying that she made contact with social workers twice with no luck of assistance and that abortion was not an option as it is no longer safe and hospitals have strict rules,” read the statement. “The mother also stated that she made contact with social workers twice with no luck of assistance.”
The group also mentioned that soon after they arrived, they were shown the location and handed the baby as well as the bag.
The infant girl was then given a bottle of breast milk to drink. The infant was examined by medical professionals, who determined that she was in good health after the examination,” read the statement.
The group also stated that a criminal case of child abandonment would be registered, and that they would be seeking assistance in order to identify either the child or the mother.
The lack of safe options available to South African women who are forced to abandon their babies is something that needs to be addressed.
It is against the law in South Africa to desert a child, and more specifically an infant, in such a way that there is a high probability that the infant will perish. On the other hand, individuals are rarely prosecuted for this crime. This is typically the case because the offender, who is typically the mother, cannot be located. Individuals are typically charged with murder once they have been found.
According to the findings of the National Child Homicide Study, it is difficult to determine how many infants pass away as a result of being abandoned. The study also discovered that it was challenging to differentiate between the various factors that led to the passing of infants. According to the findings of this study, more than half of the 454 children under the age of five who were murdered in the United States in 2009 were murdered in their first month of life. These deaths were caused by abandonment 84.9% of the time.
It is not uncommon for infants to be left behind in places such as open fields, garbage cans, and pit latrines. The fatal effects of this kind of exposure are what ultimately led to their passing.
According to estimates provided by the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa, the number of babies who were unsafely abandoned in South Africa in 2010 was 3,500. Only 34 of the 83 infants found to have been unsafely abandoned were found to be alive in the year 2020, while the remaining 49 were found to have died. These are from incidents that were covered in the media; however, the vast majority of incidents go unreported.
Although these numbers might appear to be much lower when compared to those from 2010, it is important to keep in mind that in 2010, a study was conducted to determine the rate of infant abandonment. There are currently no official statistics available in South Africa regarding the rate at which infants are being abandoned. More recently, in 2021, an informal collection of news reports between the months of January and July revealed that a total of 43 infants were found to have been abandoned in an unsafe manner, but only 23 of them were found to be alive.
My dissertation for my doctoral program investigated the necessity of “baby savers” in South Africa, which are defined as places where infants can be left in a secure environment without fear of harm. My research has shown that the current South African laws punish the crime of abandonment, but those laws do not provide a safe alternative that will prevent people from committing the act. Infants will have a better chance of survival thanks to laws that encourage prevention.
The reasons why infants are left unattended
A variety of factors contribute to the phenomenon of child abandonment in South Africa. These include restrictive legislation, poverty, high levels of violence including rape, extreme gender inequality, and a decline in the support provided by families.
The desperate mothers in South Africa who feel they have no other choice but to abandon their babies in dangerous environments do not have access to any safe alternatives. One such instance would be giving up a newborn child for adoption. In order to comply with the law, both the mother and the father are required to give their consent. If the mother is a minor herself, meaning that she is under the age of 18, she will need the permission of her own parents or guardian in order to place her child for adoption.
My proposal is to make the act of safe relinquishment legal while maintaining the current legal standing of unsafe abandonment as a criminal offense. If it is done in an unsafe manner, providing mothers with additional options rather than fewer options will justify a prosecution for abandonment. Because of these laws, there will need to be an extensive public education effort to raise awareness of the locations of childcare facilities that are suitable for babies. Additionally, it will ensure that the identities of the mothers will be kept confidential after they have handed over their children in a secure manner.
Baby savers from all over the world
What exactly is a baby saver, then? In some circles, it is also known as a baby box, a baby safe, and the babyklappen (in Germany). The “saver” is a structure that looks like a box and is built into the wall, and it provides a means for a mother or other person to abandon an infant in a manner that is both confidential and secure. When the infant is placed inside, a sensor will activate an alarm, and either emergency medical teams or first responders will be notified immediately. The newborn baby is gathered up and taken to a secure location.
In South Africa, there are currently 35 organizations that have actively introduced baby savers to the country’s communities. The Door of Hope Children’s Mission was the first one to open its doors in 1999, despite the fact that it had no legal backing at the time. To date, this facility has been responsible for the rescue of 240 infants.
These organizations give expectant mothers a secure environment in which to give up their children for adoption. Babies who have been found after surviving the trauma of being abandoned in an unsafe environment are also brought to these organizations. However, in the absence of legalization, the locations of these savers remain largely unknown to the general public. This restricts the access that desperate mothers have to them, which in turn makes it more difficult for additional savers to be established in South Africa.
It’s not just a problem in South Africa; other countries have the same problem. There are a lot of countries all over the world that have to deal with this harsh reality, but some of them have developed alternatives. They may approach it in a variety of ways, but the end goal is the same: to protect the child’s right to life.
After a string of unsafe abandonments across the state that resulted in the deaths of 33 out of a total of 105 abandoned infants, the state of Texas passed the Baby Moses law in 1999, making it the first state to legalize the use of a baby saver device. This was quickly followed by Germany, which began using babyklappens in the year 2000 after it had already adopted the practice. 143 infants were safely returned to their parents using these safes between the years 2001 and 2007.
In January of 2019, Namibia became the only country in Africa to pass laws protecting babies and young children.
Making a change
Activists and other organizations have recently started a petition in South Africa in the hopes of getting baby savers legitimized there.
We are lobbying for the Children’s Act (No. 38 of 2005) to be amended so that baby savers are included and recognized as a safe alternative if they are used in the manner that is prescribed by our proposals. This would require the amendment of the Children’s Act. Importantly, we are of the opinion that baby savers should only be used as a very last resort to help mothers in situations where counseling has been either ineffective or impossible to obtain.
A change in the law will encourage more baby savers to open their doors in regions where the rate of infant abandonment is the highest. It will also make it possible for these lifesavers to be advertised to the general public, which will help more mothers who are struggling to make ends meet.