Social workers and others in the business of rescuing babies and small children on Monday painted a grim picture of the plight of newborn babies in the city.
They said the children of teenagers, immigrant mothers and the poverty-stricken were sometimes dumped in bins, left in hospitals or placed in areas where they could be “found”.
“Poverty is one of the biggest factors, and accounts for a portion of dumped babies,” Pretoria social worker Mncedisi Gwala said.
According to statistics, the majority of parents who abandoned their children were typically between 18 and 35 years old, single and unemployed.
And the sad fact of dumped babies was that at least 70% were newborns and 90% under the age of 1, said Deirdre Elizabeth Blackie of the department of anthropology in the faculty of humanities at Wits University.
The biggest culprits were young girls who were scared of their families and worried that their futures would be ruined.
“Some never even know they were pregnant until they are in the emergency room, ready to give birth,” Child Welfare Tshwane adoptions manager Nina De Caires said.
She said a lack of information was the major reason for teenagers getting pregnant, where parents, schools, clinics and others centres of influence neglected the role of moulding and informing.
“They need to hear about sexuality and pregnancy from home; from parents and in a loving environment,” she said. The flood of information from social media and TV, among others, gave mixed messages.
While there were no figures readily available for the number of babies abandoned in Pretoria, social workers and non-governmental organisations agreed that the figures were high.
They said there were soft and hard abandonments. “Hard is when the baby is placed where they can die and never be found; soft is where the mother probably wanted her baby found,” said Gwala.
According to De Caires, teenagers and other younger mothers more often than not left babies near churches or police stations, near clinics or in a neighbourhood where someone would notice their presence.
“Some even pack milk and supplies, evidence that they want their baby to be found and taken care of,” she said.
And while older women did throw their babies in rubbish dumps, wrapped in plastic that was meant to kill them, they often skipped the hospital after giving birth.
“They either give false names and addresses or just disappear, leaving the baby with staff.”
Both young and older women, even some married ones, left their children and walked away because they knew they could not feed an extra mouth.
However, they sometimes did so because of broken relationships, and babies would hinder growth and progress. In certain instances, their partners did not want the babies.
There was also the HIV factor, were infected mothers did not cherish the thought of caring for sickly children.
De Cares said: “Sometimes they are conceived through rape and the women do not want to be reminded of it constantly.”
Drugs were also blamed and said to be a major reason for abandonment.
To mitigate the situation, non-governmental and non-profit organisations around the city were waiting with open arms to save the unwanted, while preaching the gospel of prevention being better than cure.
This has led to the phenomenon of “holes-in-the-wall”.
They allow mothers to discreetly place their babies in doors or shutters, for social workers to take care of.
Organisations such as Child Welfare Tshwane has systems in place to care for, foster and adopt. New Beginningz, also in the city, provides a drop-off bin.
New Beginningz founder Tahiyya Hassim said they had a drop-off every second week, while some babies were known to die in trash bins.
“It takes an emotional toll on us to hear of babies being left to die or being thrown down drains.”
The child-care stakeholders reiterated that support was always available for women in distress; mothers who did not know what to do with the babies they could not take care of.
But some mothers did come back because they got caught or felt guilty.
Families also find out and sometimes pledge their support.