Our laws need to change to help save abandoned babies
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Cape Town - The criminalising of infant abandonment has been called into question when options such as baby safe havens may provide alternative answers to rising infant mortality.
While existing South African laws are reactive in that they treat child abandonment as a crime, law lecturer at the University of Johannesburg Dr Whitney Rosenberg said that the law fails to provide a safe alternative that will prevent the act of unsafe abandonment.
“These laws illustrate a reactive approach adopted by South African law in dealing with infant abandonment and actions related thereto. This restrictive legislation, according to Dee Blackie (a consultant and an activist to the National Adoption Coalition of SA), is one of the causes of child abandonment.”
“A reactive approach is problematic as it fails to prevent the proliferation of infant abandonment by only punishing and not preventing the action, hence punishing the action does not safeguard the lives of infants. The fact that very few women are ever prosecuted for these crimes is also evidence of the fact that these laws, by themselves, are ineffective in that they neither serve as a deterrent nor do they have a retributive function,” said Rosenberg.
A study done by the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa Fact Sheet on child abandonment has revealed that some of the causes of child abandonment in South Africa are restrictive legislation, poverty, mass urbanisation, high levels of violence including rape, extreme gender inequality, HIV/Aids and diminishing family support.
Door of Hope operating director, Nadene Grabham, said that poverty plays a leading role in child abandonment.
“Since lockdown March 2020 to date, in media news articles, 125 babies were found abandoned in unsafe places, 71 of these babies were found dead. Informal statistics from 2010 showed that around 3 500 babies are abandoned in SA annually and that for every baby found alive, two are found dead.”
“The reason behind these figures are unemployment, lack of support from father of the baby, father abandons the mother of the baby, lack of support from family and communities, rape and incest, also lack of knowledge about crisis pregnancy centres and baby savers all over South Africa,” said Grabham.
At this point, given the ineffectiveness of the laws, legalising safe baby relinquishment is the only option to protect the lives of many innocent babies who due to a lack of better laws will succumb to the acts of their parents.
“When legalising these savers, certain provisions should be put in place in order to ensure their proper functioning. Baby savers are the easiest to implement as a starting point in South Africa because only organisations interested in establishing these savers can do so, as opposed to safe haven laws which will require wider co-operation from all police stations, fire stations, children’s homes, non-profit organisations, and not-for-profit companies which will therefore take a longer time to institute.”
“We propose that amendments be made to the Children’s Act to provide for the safe relinquishment of infants by means of the regulation of baby savers and designated baby safe haven providers. It should be clear that if an infant (as defined in our proposed amendment) is safely handed over to a baby saver or designated baby safe haven provider in terms of the process provided for and on the conditions set out in the Children’s Act then the child would not be considered ’abandoned’ and no criminal offence would have been committed.“
Rosenberg added that while the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to life, the lack of the provision of a safe alternative to unsafe infant abandonment is not safeguarding the child’s right to life which forms one of the fundamental rights of our Constitution.
“The Change.org petition that was started by us is to get the public’s support in the legalisation of baby savers and baby safe havens. To date we have over 5 000 signatures and would appreciate the public’s support as we advocate for the amendment of the Children’s Act.”
As the department recognises the importance of child protection, Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said that NPOs are encouraged to continue to report all instances.
“The department wishes to encourage all NPOs to report all cases of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation to a designated child protection organisation, provincial department of social development, local social worker or police as section 110 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, states that professionals and organisations that work closely with children, have a duty to report suspected cases of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation,” said Oliphant.