IT WAS with mixed feelings that I read the article in The Star last week about a 19-year-old girl who claimed to have found an abandoned baby outside her home.
The girl told her mother she heard the cries of a baby and found the infant when she went outside to look. The mother called the police who, upon investigation, found that the baby was actually the teenager’s.
She had been impregnated by her 17-year-old boyfriend and carried the baby to term, finally giving birth on her own.
I found myself wondering a number of things.
Firstly, how come the girl’s family never realised she was pregnant? How was she able to hide it from them? Was it because she hid it so well or was it because the family never took the time to find out how she was doing?
Looking back on my own pregnancies, I do not think there was anyway I could have hidden it from anyone. I was as big as a house, with a noticeable bump.
Moreover, pregnancy comes with its share of challenges, such as nausea during the first trimester, backaches during the second and third trimesters, and a general feeling of tiredness. So how did the family miss all these signs?
The family in question lived in Batang Kali, which suggests they could be from an underprivileged background. Frequently, within families like this, the main struggle is to find an income to sustain themselves from day to day.
They usually work hard, but do not enjoy financial returns that are commensurate with the amount of energy expended. In many cases, the parents hold several jobs to make ends meet, and this makes them too busy to spend time with their own children.
And then there is the case of the girl herself. She is 19 years old, and her boyfriend is 17.
Despite the availability of contraception in the country, somehow they managed to conceive a child before they were ready to bring one up. It makes me wonder about the quality of sex education in schools, and also within the family unit in Malaysia.
What are we teaching our young about sex? What do they know about unprotected sex?
I know the Asian mentality is to ban sex from our children, but at what point are we going to realise that by making it a taboo subject, we are only making it more attractive for them? And worse yet, these youngsters seem to be unaware of the options available to them.
We keep talking about having a non-judgmental approach to situations like this, and there are non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Malaysia which provide baby hatch services, where an unwanted baby can be dropped off at a safe and secure location.
And yet it is clear that many who need these services are unaware of them.
It is also clear that the girl herself was too afraid to inform her family. Perhaps informing them at the outset would have made things worse for her as they might have felt ashamed of her actions.
How they would have reacted is an unknown factor. In any case, she decided to quietly have the baby, abandon it and then claim to have found it.
The case is being investigated under Section 317 of the Penal Code for abandoning a child below the age of 12. Technically, it is clear-cut case of abandonment.
But I have mixed feelings because of her decision to abandon her baby at her own home.
She clearly had some regard for the safety of the child, but just did not know how to deal with the situation she found herself in.
The scenario of young mothers, unready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood, who abandon their babies, is not a new one.
In years past, the proliferation of cases like this led to the setting-up of baby hatches as an option for these mothers. But over the long term, we need to think of different ways of reaching out to people in such situations so that they can be effectively counselled to make the right choice.
Sheila Stanley is a writer and communications consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. Cases of abandoned babies cause her to wonder how we can improve the ecosystem of support for young, unwed mothers in Malaysia. You can get in touch with her via e-mail at email@example.com