Ministry reaches out to unwilling moms

28 February 2018 | Crime

The gender and child welfare ministry is calling on pregnant mothers to turn to the ministry for help instead of deserting newborn babies, often in life-threatening conditions.

The ministry also announced they are advocating, through the Child Care and Protection Act, to decriminalise cases where mothers are caught after they dumped their newborns. The ministry underlined that this would encourage unwilling mothers to place their newborn babies in safe places and allow social workers to make the necessary arrangements, “instead of leaving the baby in a deserted place, where the life of the baby is endangered”.

The ministry further appealed to civil society, including churches, traditional leaders and the community as a whole, to assist in assuring young mothers that alternative options, other than dumping babies, are on the table.

And that young girls are given the necessary support if they “do not know how to cope with the matter and encourage them to take help when they are experiencing a problem”.

For more than a decade, Namibia has been plagued by a worrying trend of mothers, mostly young girls, dumping babies shortly after birth.

In many cases, the infants died.

To date, authorities have criminally charged mothers accused of abandoning their infants, who later died, in the same way as mothers accused of infanticide.

In a full-page press statement on Tuesday, the ministry, with support from the minister Doreen Sioka, condemned cases where mothers abandoned infants shortly after birth.

The statement, however, acknowledged the “extremely difficult circumstances that young expecting mothers could be confronted with” when they opted to abandon their children.

The ministry noted that they are advocating for the decriminalising of baby dumping in an effort to persuade reluctant would-be mothers to rather anonymously leave their child at a safe place “with a note indicating her wishes not to harm the child”.

The ministry also urged mothers to approach them while pregnant and to inform social workers that they are unable or unwilling to care for the child.

“A supportive and non-judgmental counselling environment will be provided by the social workers at the ministry,” the statement emphasised. Another option proposed is that the ministry, in collaboration with the health ministry, will assist mothers who indicate their inability to care for their child, to safely give birth and then finding suitable caregivers for the child.

“By doing so, both the mother and the baby are safe and protected.”

The ministry further noted that in cases where the babies are born and then abandoned, the ministries of health and child welfare will ensure that the baby's health is stabilised.

A case of abandonment will then be opened with the Namibian police and a place of safety found for the child.

The police will take steps to trace the mother.

However, if the mother of the child is not found or the mother is facing criminal charges or is otherwise unfit to care for the child, foster and adoption processes will be initiated.

A paper published by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) suggested a number of causes for baby dumping. These included tradition, where young women fear judgment from their community and family when they become pregnant outside of marriage, and economic vulnerability when partners are absent or unwilling to assist.

Often, young women have unwanted pregnancies that lead them to conceal their condition and eventually ditch the child.

Lack of knowledge, illness, fear of leaving school and other forces are behind the desperate decision to abandon their babies and risk their lives.

Another issue related to unwanted pregnancies in Namibia was raised again by health minister Bernard Haufiku this month, when he reiterated his call for an urgent need for public dialogue on the legalisation of abortion.

He said this should be done especially in view of the high number of cases of illegal abortions recorded by the ministry in 2017.

Last year, at the bi-monthly conference on the state of health in Namibia, Haufiku explained that most backdoor abortions were detected by professionals when women sought medical attention, due to heavy bleeding or untreated infections. He, however, indicated that such cases could not be reported to the police, due to ethical issues and concerns that women would shy away from hospitals, fearing they will be reported to the police.

JANA-MARI SMITH