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Circle of love


OrphanCARE hopes to serve as the link betwe en unwanted babies and couples who want to adopt.

IN May, a month-old baby boy was found abandoned in a shack, covered with ants and mosquitoes. That same month, two teenagers from Malacca were charged with burying a new-born boy.

And just this week, the body of a baby, his umbilical cord still attached, was found by a road in Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya. Police believe the boy was dumped three hours after his birth.

Cases like these convince the committee members of OrphanCARE that the newly-installed baby hatch at their centre in Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, is crucial.

OrphanCARE, a smart partner of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry that aims to find every orphan and abandoned baby a loving family, decided to build one after its inception in 2008.

A baby hatch is a place where mothers who are unable, or unwilling, to take care of their babies, can leave them in a safe environment, where they will be cared for. There are hatches in countries like Pakistan, Germany, Japan and India. (See Different names, same aim)

Many abandoned babies die from exposure to the elements. Some survive, but their health usually suffers – chest infections are common.

Initially, the NGO considered purchasing the design of a baby hatch from Germany, where there are 80 babyklappen scattered around the country. However, the price was daunting. OrphanCARE then decided to come out with its own hatch, which cost RM15,000 to build. It is located at the centre’s premises, a bungalow situated in residential Kampung Tunku.

The hatch is actually a room measuring one square metre. It is equipped with a bed, an air-conditioner, a lamp and a sensor that sounds an alarm in the caretaker’s room upstairs whenever a baby is placed in it.

“The area is secluded although it’s near the main road,” says OrphanCARE president Datuk Adnan Mohd Tahir.

Location is often a dilemma: People may hesitate to approach a more public place; on the other hand, a secluded place might not be accessible. The centre hopes to build more baby hatches and place them in hospitals.

Adnan and his wife Elya became orphan activists after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which left many children orphaned in places like Acheh. A business friend told Adnan that he hoped to bring 15 orphans from Acheh to Malaysia, so that they could be adopted by families here. The couple decided to help by spreading the word around; in no time they started getting calls from people eager to adopt.

However, something unforeseen cropped up. When word of their efforts got to Unicef, they were suspected of running a baby trafficking operation.

Elya and Adnan were called up to Bukit Aman for questioning, but they managed to clear the air.

“We were not selling babies, we were getting help for orphans. Unfortunately, the Indonesian government put a stop to them leaving Acheh. As a result, there were many disappointed parents here,” says Adnan.

Rather than be discouraged by the turn of events, and seeing how good the response had been to the Acheh appeal, he decided to gather a few friends to do something for Malaysian orphans instead. That was how OrphanCARE began.

Adnan says the baby hatch is a natural progression, especially if you look at the statistics: Between 2005 and 2009, the police recorded 407 cases of abandoned babies in the country. These are just those found and reported; many abandoned babies go undiscovered and forgotten.

Objections

Baby hatches have existed since medieval times, but they often stoke controversy, no matter where they’re built. Since the launch of OrphanCARE’s baby hatch on May 29, response from the public has been divided. Detractors wrote to newspapers expressing their disgust; they said it would encourage people to have premarital sex and engage in reckless behaviour.

Shelter Home executive director James Nayagam was quoted in The Star (Get to root problem of baby dumping; June 1) as saying that baby hatches are a waste of taxpayers’ money because they just treat the symptoms and do not resolve the issue of abandoned babies.

It is not true that the baby hatch was built using taxpayers’ money, says Noraini Hashim, deputy president of OrphanCARE.

“The money was donated by our president’s interior design company. We also did fundraising last year during our launch, which gave us enough to rent the house and pay the staff.”

The government has promised them RM100,000, which they have yet to receive, she adds.

“Our main target is to save babies, We are not saying that (the baby hatch) is the solution to the baby abandonment problem,” says Noraini, who works in the corporate sector.

“The point at which a young girl abandons her baby is the end of a series of events. We are tackling that phase of the problem. We totally agree that the root cause must be addressed. It goes back to parenting, education and more,” says assistant secretary Azra Banu.

But the baby hatch has supporters too, such as Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, who believes unwanted babies should be saved.

“At first I didn’t agree with this idea as I was afraid it will send the wrong message, especially to teenagers. However, now we really need baby hatches for sinless babies,” he was quoted in a Berita Harian report of May 31.

The mufti believes that those who abandon their babies should face harsh penalties. However, the folks at OrphanCARE stress that one should not put the blame solely on the mothers, many of whom hide their pregnancy – out of shame and fear of repercussions from society and family for having a child out of wedlock. Some are victims of rape.

“We had a university student who hid her pregnancy from her roomate because you can get booted out of university if you get pregnant and are not married. It’s not easy, trying to hide that from friends and family,” Adnan says.

“For a person to abandon her baby, she must have been in a terrible state of mind. It’s difficult to imagine.”

The procedures

Whenever a baby is deposited at the baby hatch, OrphanCARE has to inform the Social Welfare Department (Jabatan Kebajikan Malaysia, or JKM). “We then have to send the baby for a check-up. If it is left without a signed consent form – available in Malay or English, and placed at the side of the hatch – we have to lodge a police report,” says Adnan.

The legalities come into play here. It is vital that the mother signs her consent to give her child up for adoption, failing which it will be a deemed an abandoned baby and a police report is mandatory.

Under the Malaysia Child Act 2001, anyone found guilty of abandoning a child is liable to a fine not exceeding RM20,000, or imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.

“In other countries, there’s no form. But in Malaysia, because of the law, we have to encourage them to sign one,” Adnan says.

Once OrphanCARE has received a baby and informed JKM, it will contact a prospective parent on its waiting list. Currently, there are about 200 applicants on the list.

“We look for parents who have financial stability and good parenting abilities. Preference is given to childless couples,” says Kim Nazli Rosali, coordinator of the parents’ committee.

So far, the committee has interviewed 50 potential couples, using questions set by JKM.

After the interview, their application goes to JKM, which then sends a counsellor to visit their home.

If a couple is deemed to be suitable as adoptive parents, JKM gives its approval, and the baby is passed to them.

“The process is almost ‘instantaneous’ – it takes just a few days because we have the list of parents ready and they’ve already been interviewed,” says Kim.

“The only thing (that’s) slow is the wait for the baby, as we do not know when one will be deposited. Therefore, the more publicity we get, the better, so that mothers can leave their babies at a safe place,” Noraini adds.

OrphanCARE welcomes volunteers. For more information, visit www.orphancare.org.my or call 03-7876 1900. Its baby hatch is located at 6, Lorong SS1/24A, Kampung Tunku, PJ.

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