Baby Savers should not be criminalised

A Baby Saver box allows mothers to safely and anonymously place their babies inside.

A Baby Saver box allows mothers to safely and anonymously place their babies inside.

Published Mar 20, 2024


Cape Town - While the unsafe abandonment of infants is a criminal offence, the government should not view the safe relinquishment of babies by desperate women, oftentimes as a last resort, as a crime.

This was the sentiment of founding members of Baby Saver SA, an organisation started in 2021 that comprises organisations providing a safe alternative for the abandonment of babies.

Sometimes resembling an incubator, a Baby Saver is a box in a wall that allows mothers to safely and anonymously place their babies inside.

Once a baby is detected inside, an alarm is triggered notifying care workers.

Helderberg Baby Saver and Baby Saver SA founding member, Sandy Immelman, said there were nine Baby Savers in the Western Cape and about 40 across South Africa.

The Helderberg Baby Saver was established after a newborn baby, “Baby Amber”, was found dumped next to a river in Somerset West in early 2014.

“She was covered in ants and would have died had the dog belonging to some vagrants not sniffed her out and they then raised the alarm,” Immelman said.

A Somerset West Neighbourhood Watch member, Judith Cross, was the first responder to the scene.

A week later, a baby was found in the Somerset West CBD, which prompted Immelman and Cross to approach Choices for permission to install the Baby Saver to prevent any such further occurrences.

Fourteen babies have since been saved using the device and more through other interventions.

Some of the misconceptions around Baby Savers was that it encouraged child abandonment and human trafficking, Immelman said.

Baby Saver SA co-founder, attorney and senior law lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, Dr Whitney Rosenberg, said that the government should allow for the safe relinquishing of infants as a last resort to desperate women without prosecution.

Rosenberg said Baby Savers would not increase the abandonment rate of infants, but instead allow for the safe relinquishing of babies.

“In rural and poor areas few options, if any, exist for mothers.

“Mothers must travel far to get any form of assistance and by that time she is contemplating leaving her baby unsafely if she's not found help,” Rosenberg said.

Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez’s spokesperson, Monique Mortlock-Malgas, said support services to minimise child abandonment were available at public health facilities, social development offices and NPOs in the child protection sector.

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