Cases of baby dumping in Malaysia, specifically among teenagers, are still rampant, even in 2020.
A more concerted effort to tackle this social issue has to start now.
The then Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, while launching a baby dumping prevention campaign last August (2019), stated that 1,010 cases were recorded from 2010 to May 2019, and in 64% of the cases, the babies were found dead.
This means that every three to four days, a baby is dumped and around two out of three of these babies will end up dying.
The problem of baby dumping is intricately intertwined with many other teen-related issues, such as teenage pregnancy, pornography, early sexual debut (having the first sexual encounter at a young age) and rising sexual activity among teens.
The 5th Malaysian Population and Family Survey 2014 (MPFS-5) showed an increase from 2.2% (2004) to 4.8% (2014) in the number of adolescents who engaged in sexual intercourse.
The survey also found that 35.3% of teenagers – over one-third – were exposed to pornography.
Why does this happen?
Factors leading to this problem need to be honestly acknowledged and bravely dealt with for any real change to take place.
Behind every case of baby dumping is an unplanned pregnancy, which is often the result of unsafe and unprotected sex.
Unsafe sex and unplanned pregnancy happen due to a lack of sexual education and knowledge.
The MPFS-5 reported that among adolescents who had sex, only 35.1% used contraceptives, i.e. nearly two out of three were not using contraceptives.
There is also a strong stigma attached to unwed mothers, which results in young, single mothers abandoning their babies due to shame and fear.
The lack of emotional support from family members makes things worse.
Pregnant teens are afraid to seek help from the appropriate channels, not only because of social prejudice, but also due to the law that penalises consensual sex by anyone under 18 years of age.
What has been done?
There have been attempts to include some version of sex education in schools.
This includes the Reproductive and Social Health Programme (Pekerti) introduced in 2012 and the subsequent Reproductive and Social Health Education (PEERS), which is currently being taught in schools under the Physical Education, Moral, Science and Islamic Studies syllabi for Year One to Form Five.
Another effort to curb baby dumping has been the introduction of baby hatches around the country by OrphanCare and KPJ hospitals, to provide a safe place for mothers who want to leave their babies anonymously.
Teens with problems can also reach out for help by calling the 24-hour Talian Kasih at 15999.
Last year (2019), Save A Life, a baby-dumping prevention campaign, was also launched by the Government.
However, current efforts are not resulting in any long-lasting impact and only seem to address the symptoms of the problem, instead of tackling any root causes.
What needs to be improved?
The factors of baby dumping need to be thoroughly considered to arrive at a genuine solution to the problem.
Parents need to be more proactive and aware of the issue of baby dumping and sexual activity among teenagers.
Be open and approachable to your child-ren, even when it comes to questions about sex, conception and intimacy.
Sex education should start at home from young, with equal focus on both boys and girls.
Encourage them to discuss issues and verify facts that they may find online.
Get to know their circle of friends and be alert for any signs of problems.
Unwed mothers need support from both family members and healthcare professionals.
Stigmatisation will only drive them away from seeking help from relevant sources.
In desperation, they will resort to baby dumping.
This stigmatisation can be gradually reduced via education and awareness in the community.
A better support system has to be provided for pregnant teens and single mothers by both the authorities and the community.
Contraceptives need to be available to teens who have been identified as sexually active.
While education on safe sex remains the mainstay of approach to this issue, contraception should be made available and provided without any judgement.
An age-appropriate and comprehensive sexual education needs to be properly outlined and introduced in schools nationwide.
Comprehensive sex education has been proven to delay initiation of sexual intercourse and decrease risky sexual behaviour.
The current syllabus is too disjointed and lacks crucial information on contraceptives.
Related laws have to be scrutinised so as not to discriminate and perpetuate stigma against unwed pregnant teens and single mothers, and to facilitate the implementation of these proposals.
Strategies that only address the symptoms are no longer enough.
Real solutions targeting the root causes of baby dumping need to be implemented, and all parties – from parents and teachers to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Government – need to treat the problem with more urgency and play their roles more effectively.
Dr Nazeli Hamzah is a consultant paediatrician and past president of the Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.