THE news of new-born Yusof caught my attention. The poignant note left behind by the mother for not being able to provide for the baby made me cringe with sadness. In this country of abundance that a mother does not have the means to feed her child is a paradox needing some scrutiny.
The mother did one thing right when she left the baby at the doorstep of someone she knows will care for the baby, regardless, and in that sense baby Yusof is lucky. Questions are many with answers so few as to why and how Yusof came into this world. It was probably a pregnancy that was never meant to happen, but who knows.
In this connection, the initiative by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry that launched a campaign to curb the trend of baby dumping is laudable. The campaign is meant to offer help to affected women to seek help when they are saddled with babies they don’t want.
Yusof is not a random victim and neither will he be the last. What’s shocking is statistics reveal that seven in 10 infants abandoned are typically found dead and most of those found alive usually do not survive.
While I think the ministry’s idea is noble and the deed praiseworthy, are there concerted efforts to obviate the issue at onset. The adage that prevention is better than cure fits the issue. Are we doing enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies? It is an education and awareness issue and not of enforcement.
In a quantitative research done by graduate students in a university in 2010 it was found that there was positive correlation between awareness towards the consequences of free sex, sex education and baby dumping.
The numbers are overwhelming, with 221 cases in Selangor followed by Sabah and Johor with 116 and 106 cases respectively between 2010 and 2018 and there could be scores of unreported cases where the childbirth goes undetected and baby disposed of.
In this connection, there are now 12 established baby hatches across the country and it has been recognised that leaving a newborn at the hatch will not be criminalised as opposed to reckless dumping. This is, again, a symptomatic solution to baby-dumping and does not address the root cause.
In our context where unwed mothers are perceived as sinners and the babies the by-product of the sin, baby dumping happens because the “victims” are afraid of the shame they will be subjected to from family and the community.
One private baby hatch provider declares, “We treat our young, single birth mothers with the respect and care they deserve. We give free, confidential and non-judgmental counselling as per guidelines set by the ... We do not judge”.
This is a pleasant departure from the lure of falling into the regular act of humiliating and disgracing women and girls who end up with unwanted babies.
I was pleasantly surprised to see this organisation’s mission and pledge but is it reaching the victims? The message that there is help and that there are options to dumping must be communicated in the right context.
The debate that such facilities encourage free sex is still intense in the background and detractors are speed-breakers who make us stop and think while actions are pursued and outcomes not assessed.
To put it bluntly, baby dumping is an extreme form of child abuse. Although this practice is not new, its current frequent occurrence and the negative implications it has on the babies, however, makes it a serious social problem that requires urgent attention.
Baby dumping seems to be developing as a new social norm and Malaysia is grappling with this issue.
When it comes to sex education, ignorance is not bliss. Children who know more from either parents or from educators are far less likely to engage in early sexual activity. Even if they do they are far more likely to be responsible to use appropriate methods of contraception or control. It’s the children who have not had this kind of education who get into trouble with tragic consequences of teenage pregnancy.
Sex education was not a topic of major concern before the sexual revolution began first in the United States and Europe and then across the globe. The abandonment of traditional constraints on sexual behaviour gave birth to the terms “free love” and “free sex”. The underlying expectation was that greater sexual freedom would lead to greater happiness. However, the sexual revolution has brought an avalanche of social and health problems.
The psychological and emotional scars from uncommitted sexual relationships precipitate anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, divorce, and family breakdown. Sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies raise concerns about public health and welfare.
The starting point should be the parents who teach their children about sexuality. This means talking about all the factors that feed into children and young people’s sexual growth and development. Topics include bodies, privacy, sexual decisions, respectful behaviour and language, and the “place” of sex in people’s lives.
In the case of baby dumping, in most cases the mother is a victim and she must be accorded the right care and treatment, not just punishment.