Caring for Durban’s abandoned babies
On Sunday, metro police Search and Rescue, accompanied by Durban Central SAPS Search and Rescue, recovered a fully developed male foetus from a stream in uMlazi. It is believed that the body was spotted by community members. Two weeks earlier, a foetus was found at a dump site in Reservoir Hills.
The numbers, according to Open Arms SA founder Youandi Gilain, are not a true reflection of cases on the ground as many go unreported.
Open Arms SA is a home for abandoned children operating on the Bluff. Gilain said that about 3500 abandoned babies were found alive each year.
She said for each baby found alive, two were found dead.
“It breaks my heart every time we are told about another abandoned baby, whether dead or alive. I started Open Arms SA just over four years ago to research reasons as to why these babies were being dumped. Even though there is help (for mothers), it is not used properly,” she said.
Gilain said that often the pregnant woman was desperate and feared that she would be judged by staff at hospitals or clinics. She said there were also cases where women from foreign countries wanted to give their babies up for adoption if they were facing deportation.
“Mothers under 18 years can have an abortion without a parent or guardian signing consent, but they cannot give their baby up for adoption without a parent or guardian signing consent. These are just some of the reasons that make abandoning the baby an option for these mothers,” she said.
Two years ago, Open Arms SA introduced a baby safe where mothers could leave their babies, without fear of embarrassment or interrogation.
“We are looking at two more locations where we can install two more baby safes, in the areas of Umbilo or Glenwood, and either uMlazi or the Durban Central Business District,” she said.
The baby safe is a well-ventilated structure where mothers can place their babies. Once a baby is placed in the safe, an alert is sent to the home affiliated to the baby safe and the baby is collected.
Gilain said the baby would be medically checked, a social worker would be informed and would place the baby in a baby home and start the process of adoption - at no charge.
House of Love and Hope (Holah) director Leanne Lorrance said the number of abandoned babies was alarming.
She said Holah was also installing a baby safe. “The idea is to reach mothers before they reach the point of abandonment. We will have a counselling service where mothers can come and ask for advice or help,” Lorrance said.
Rescue Care paramedic Ceron Meadows said attending to these incidents left emergency services workers heartbroken.
“It is just unimaginable to think how a person could not be attached to a living human that grew inside them. There are so many out there who can help and will take the baby. Rather leave the baby at a hospital or a home if you cannot look after it,” she said.
The MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, expressed concern at the cases.
“This means we need to strengthen awareness about the numerous contraception options that are available. Women should not be falling pregnant when they don’t want to, so that they do not find themselves in such situations.
“Men also have to play an active role in preventing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies by using condoms, or getting a vasectomy if they have had the desired number of babies. There is also the option of safe termination if it’s still early enough in the pregnancy,” he said.
Dhlomo said that if someone fell pregnant but didn’t want the child, the government would take that baby and put it in an adoption programme.
“We are also appealing to parents to speak to their children about delaying their sexual debut. Young people need to be encouraged to use condoms and to know that there are birth control options such as female contraceptives and condoms that we offer free of charge,” Dhlomo said.
He said that if parents and guardians did not speak to their children, they would receive poor advice.
“We have already trained a number of nurses in adolescent and youth user-friendly health service,” he said.
“This training helps our nurses to change their attitudes, to be more welcoming and remember that they are not there to pass judgement on young people when they seek contraceptives, but to give them the help that they need.”