Save abandoned babies, help mothers-in-crisis, Sarawak NGO says


Too often, the struggles of these young mothers are unseen and their cries for help often go unheard. As a result, with no one to help and no where to turn to, their usual course of action is to abandon their babies. Photo: Freepik

In Sarawak, the issue of abandoned babies is more serious than many realise.

The state has the second highest number of teen pregnancies in Malaysia at 9.1%, according to Sarawak’s Women, Early Childhood, and Community Well-Being Development Ministry (Dec 2023), and a total of 52 dumping cases involving babies or fetuses were recorded between Jan 2016 and Aug 2023, with four in 2023 (as at Oct 2023).

To address this issue of abandoned babies in the state, Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) has launched a campaign titled “Tender Compassion for Mothers-in-Crisis”.

The campaign, supported by Article 19, Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, and the Canadian High Commission in Malaysia, includes a YouTube video “dedicated to all the abandoned babies and fetuses, as well as the mothers struggling with crisis pregnancies”.

“We aim to create a supportive community with shared resources and hope, through the power of collective empathy,” says SWWS in their campaign video.

Society places heavy demands on women when a crisis pregnancy happens and even in 2024, there are many who still blame mothers for the tragedy of baby abandonment, according to SWWS.

The organisation says that mothers-in-crisis often feel alone, afraid, ashamed and in a panic, not knowing what to do or who they can turn to. And too often, the struggles of these women – who are often young and unmarried, many abandoned – are unseen and their cries for help go unheard.

“As a result, with no one to help and no where to turn to, their usual course of action is to abandon their babies,” reveals SWWS.

The organisation says that these mothers “carry a weight that many of us cannot see” and that they have “endured much and need more than just material assistance”.

When we extend our support to these mothers, we are indirectly impacting the lives of their babies, highlights the organisation.

To help abandoned babies, we need to help mothers in crisis too. Photo: Sarawak Women for Women SocietyTo help abandoned babies, we need to help mothers in crisis too. Photo: Sarawak Women for Women Society

“We need to understand that the journey to motherhood for these women is a battle that is often silent, unseen and misunderstood. In their most desperate hour, these mothers need our empathy, not our judgement. They need a safe space to express their fears, to seek help, and to find understanding,” it says.

According to the organisation, the majority of abandoned babies are born to young mothers, many of whom are barely more than children themselves.

“Imagine being a child and facing the responsibilities of motherhood – the confusion, fear, overwhelming pressure, of not just nurturing a new life, but of facing society’s scrutiny at such a tender age.”

SWWS says that for these young women, the decision to leave their baby comes from a place of desperation: “They are at a crossroads where their limited understanding, lack of support and sheer panic converge.”

The organisation describes these young women as "mothers-in-crisis who have not only gone through a traumatic birth but also mental and emotional trauma".

They need help to “get back on track”.

When a pregnancy is planned, the mother is informed, happy, and has access to healthcare; but unplanned pregnancies involve many challenges.Photo: YouTube/Sarawak Women for Womenfor Women SocietyWhen a pregnancy is planned, the mother is informed, happy, and has access to healthcare; but unplanned pregnancies involve many challenges.Photo: YouTube/Sarawak Women for Womenfor Women Society

When a pregnancy is filled with joy and anticipation – the mother is prepared, happy, pleased, supported, confident, congratulated, informed, and has access to healthcare. But when it’s marred by challenges and uncertainties, the mother is in a panic, frightened, unprepared, shocked, alone, scared, isolated, stigmatised and lost, says SWWS.

To help abandoned babies, we need to help mothers-in-crisis too. It’s time to listen, understand and act, to ensure that every mother has access to the care, support and resources that she needs, the organisation says.

Help can be provided for these mothers and their children through baby hatches, government agency healthcare interventions, and the one-stop teenage pregnancy committee (OSTPC).

According to SWWS, civil society organisations, NGOs and religious/faith groups can also reach out to offer support at a community level and by operating helplines.

It adds that helpful and compassionate communities are also necessary in supporting these mothers, providing safety for women and children, and offering maternal health services.

However, SWWS does emphasise that this “is not a simple issue” and there are many intersecting factors involved such as poverty, lack of education or awareness, societal pressure, and stigma surrounding unplanned pregnancies.

And, while baby hatches do help, SWWS in its Instagram post (@SarawakWomen), highlights that currently, there is only one baby hatch in Sarawak. “And even if more are set up, how will a mother who has just given birth be able to reach them if she is alone without anyone to help?”

“Giving birth alone is traumatic. Post birth, all mothers – including these mothers-in-crisis, need a checkup and their health is at risk if they aren’t properly discharged post-birth. They also need help and support to work through their feelings, problems and options,” it adds in the Instagram post.

A holistic approach is needed with all of society involved, from government agencies, to civil society organisations and NGOs, to neighbourhoods and communities, says SWWS.

“Sometimes, it’s about young mothers feeling scared and alone, without the resources to support their needs. Other times, it is the fear of judgement from families and communities that drives them to the desperate measure of abandoning their own babies.”

Even if she decides to ask for help, she will have a lot of worries or fears about being outed, facing legal consequences, being judged harshly and so on.

While abandoning a child is wrong, it’s not a decision that the mother has taken lightly, says SWWS.

“She may have been overwhelmed by her difficulties, which have severely impacted her ability to make decisions and care for a child.

“We can start by creating safe spaces for these mothers to seek help without fear of judgement, where they can be heard, and their needs addressed with dignity and respect. By understanding and tackling these various factors, we can work towards a future where baby abandonment is a thing of the past.”

More info: whataboutthemother.my.canva.site/home

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