Stories of babies lying cold by the roadside, dumped in garbage bins or desperate cries for help from a nearby pit latrine are becoming common place in countries across the world and Botswana is no exception.
The public’s reaction is always undoubtedly one of disgust when hearing about reports of baby dumping and the typical question is who in their right mind would commit such a crime? Most of us see this as a purely criminal act and always call for the full brunt of the law to be brought down on the perpetrator. The reality is that there is a more to this disturbing trend than a superficial crime. Reports on baby dumping have indicated that individuals who commit the act are mostly young girls who are faced with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and betrayal or abandonment by the father of the child. Many have parents who would have reacted with extreme anger thus driving them into isolation and hopelessness during pregnancy. For many, resorting to dumping their babies is the only answer they have.
Which begs the question, where is the family and community in such a situation? What happened to the nuclear or extended family while the mother tries to make ends meet? Gone are days when either the grandmother or great grandmother provided that extra care. Is this the aftermath of high levels of unemployment and the existing gender power relations that leave women subjected to poverty or is it a cry by young women for help?
Speaking recently at a campaign against infanticide and baby dumping workshop, Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Dr Gloria Somolokae said it was imperative that the factors which drive women to dump their babies should be explored. “The cases reported in the media are enough to be of concern to any decent human being,” she stressed, adding that between 2005 and 2010, 450 babies suffered this fate.
She called for increased healthcare and well being of children and stressed that every child should be cared for and get the best possible start in life. She added that children should always be put first and they should be listened to and their participation ensured. Efforts of organizations like Maikano Youth Wellness Organization and individuals who have taken it upon themselves to demystify baby dumping, to always be on the alert for baby who may have been dumped as well as provide for some of their basic needs are certainly worth recognising. As they say, be the change you want to see.
In essence baby dumping is a challenge to government to put in place structures that will promote the well being of the child as outlined in the Children’s Act of 2009. The establishment of Safe Haven centres are long overdue. DNA banks should also be set up to help trace the parents of the abandoned babies. That again will promote responsibility and readiness for parenthood by both parents and deter any would be dumper from committing this offense. Even though the situation may seem bleak, there’s always an alternative to throwing away a child.