Babies ‘don’t matter’ in SA
Johannesburg - Do babies matter in South Africa? That is the question being asked by protection organisations and advocates ahead of Child Protection Week next week.
“The continued increase in incidents of abandonment, abuse, neglect and murder seem to be telling us that sadly, they do not,” the National Adoption Coalition of SA said on Friday.
Over the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children an intensive campaign run by veteran child protection activist Luke Lamprecht, called #BabiesMatter, “provoked the rather depressing conclusion that not all babies do”.
“The most significant questions are ‘why’ and ‘what do countless births not celebrated, and deaths not mourned’, say about us as a society?” said the coalition, an NGO that represents the child protection community.
“It is estimated around 3500 children are abandoned annually in the country - 300 a month.”
However, this figure only included survivors and “the total number of abandonments is far higher. Figures compiled in Gauteng show that for every abandoned child found alive, two are found dead.”
Research showed 65% of abandoned children were newborns, and 90% under the age of one. Many abandoned babies had already survived a late-term abortion and 70% of abandonments were unsafe, with many babies never found.
The organisation said legislative challenges served to increase rather than decrease child abandonment. “Safe abandonment is illegal so all of the country’s ‘baby safes’ operate unlawfully. Girls under the age of 18 can consent to an abortion but cannot place a child for adoption without the consent of a parent or guardian.
“Foreigners fear deportation if they try to place a child up for adoption. Others lack the formal documentation required to place their child into the system.
“Abandonment is no longer listed as a violent crime in South Africa or included in crime statistics. Nor is it listed as a cause of death. There is therefore no accurate tally of how many children die as a result of abandonment.”
To date, no formal research had been completed by the government to track abandonment, and no measures put in place to counter it.
“Studies show that abandonment most frequently results from desperation because of poverty and unemployment, a breakdown of the family from mass urbanisation; HIV/Aids, cultural beliefs and concerns around the formal practice of adoption, rape, incest and ‘blessers or daddies.
“Government policy is a huge contributing factor, as (there) is anti-adoption sentiment on the part of many officials. Endemic problems like poverty and abuse are hard to address, so child abandonment is likely to continue long-term.”
"To save more babies, the government should lower the age of consent for adoption placement and facilitate safe abandonment through implementing safe haven laws.
“Xenophobic policies regarding foreigners must be revised, as well as barriers to adoption and illegal abortion practitioners must be policed.
“Abandonment should be listed as a crime and mortuary statistics listed to quantify the problem. Pregnancy initiatives are essential to support vulnerable women and lessen the risk of them making the tragic decision to abandon.”