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Babies abandoned in hospitals a cause for concern

Babies abandoned in hospitals a cause for concern

THE Gauteng Department of Health is battling to eradicate the issues of abandoned infants in their facilities.

About 1 000 babies are abandoned in the country every year. Some of these infants are dumped in fields or in areas where they could go for days without someone seeing them, causing them to die. According to the National Child Homicide Study of 2016, child abandonment contributed at least 85% to the infant mortality rate in 2009.

The Gauteng province has come under the spotlight for the number of infant abandonment cases. In 2020, the province had 143 babies abandoned at various hospitals. These numbers decreased from 119 in 2021.

This year the stats dropped to 56 babies, with Thelle Mogoerane Hospital being the most affected hospital, where 15 babies were abandoned between January and August. Some of the other hospitals where babies were abandoned in the region this year include Tembisa Hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, Leratong Hospital, George Mukhari Hospital, Far East Rand Hospital, Sebokeng, Edenvale Hospital and Mamelodi Hospital.

The Gauteng Department of Health said there are several reasons why women abandon their new babies. These reasons include teenage pregnancy, migrant moms intentionally providing incorrect identification information out of fear of being deported, babies born with disabilities, unwanted pregnancies and mothers who are addicts.

“We, as the department, have the duty in terms of the law, to ensure that these abandoned babies receive great care. This is done by keeping them in the hospital ward for a week or even a month before they are removed from the facility in terms of the Children’s Act by a social worker, child protection organisations or the Department of Social Development,” said departmental spokesperson Motalatale Modiba.

He said there are measures in place that the department uses to mitigate the issues of abandonment of children in health-care facilities in the province.

“We continuously embark on education drives as a department where we educate the public on the dangers of teenage pregnancy. We also inform the public about the risks of having unprotected sex and encourage using contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

“Moreover, social workers at these facilities often conduct awareness campaigns where expectant mothers are given different options available to them from a support point of view so that these mothers do not feel overwhelmed,” Modiba said.

He said these social workers make these women aware that there are safer options to give their babies up should they not want to keep them after birth. Modiba said this phenomenon is a challenge for the health department because it is a problem they have experienced for years.

Whilst Modiba said expectant mothers who wish to give away their babies after birth have safer options available, women may often avoid these channels because of the treatment they receive from health-care workers. A month ago, a 23-year-old KZN mother handed herself over to the police after abandoning her child in a field. In her defence, the mother insinuated that the system failed her because she was denied access to termination of pregnancy services, and the adoption process was moving at a snail’s pace.

The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (Nacsa) and the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law challenged the adoption delays in the Durban High Court in November 2019. These glitches in the system force women to take extreme measures. Some of these women go as far as having illegal abortions, which account for at least 58% of the annual abortion rate in the country, putting more women at risk of dying.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development said the issue of abandoned babies remains the health department’s responsibility. But the statutory processes, long-term placement, and care of abandoned babies rest with social workers within the department and NPOs.

“In most instances, the hospitals contact social workers from the department and registered NPOs or Child Protection Organisations. The social workers follow due processes and would issue Form 36, which allows the social worker to remove the child from the hospital and place children in alternative care. The abandoned babies are usually placed in alternative care facilities that are screened and suitable for children or in child and youth care facilities pending investigation,” said the department’s director of communications Motsamai Motlhaolwa.

Dee Blackie, who runs a child protection community engagement programme called Courage Child Protection and Empowerment, said in 2016, statistics from Joburg mortuaries found that of every three children abandoned, only one survives. Blackie was one of the founding members of the Nacsa. Blackie did her master’s research into the lived experience of child abandonment in South Africa in 2013 and 2014, where she found that 65% of abandoned children were newborn, 90% younger than a year, and 70% abandoned in unsafe sites which, included toilets, drains, gutters, dumping sites, parks, and the open veld.

“In 2010, Child Welfare SA facilities in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban collectively estimated that around 3 500 children were abandoned into their care that year. I did further research into the matter in 2016 amongst Child And Youth Care Centre, and the numbers appeared to have remained unchanged,” said Blackie.

She also highlighted that many child protection organisations had noted an increase in child abandonment during and after Covid-19 lockdown.

Sunday Independent

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