CARE-ing for unwanted babies

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 22 Jul 2012

More baby hatches are being planned to provide an avenue for desperate mothers to place their newborns in a safe environment.

THE double-storey house with its neatly-trimmed lawn and plain gate looks like any other house in the Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, neighbourhood. Look closer, however, and you will see a blue and yellow vending-like machine in the porch with the words in red pelindung bayi (baby hatch) on it.

This is the baby hatch that was set up in 2010 to take in newborns who would otherwise have been left to the vagaries of nature after being abandoned by their mothers. Cases of babies being abandoned have been the subject of media reports for years now. Looking back to almost two decades ago, there were reports of a baby being found dead in a chicken coop and of another who was found alive in a plastic bag by a jogger. The two incidents happened just days apart in Seremban, Negri Sembilan.

The baby, who was found alive, was lucky because a stray dog chewed on the plastic bag he was wrapped in, enabling him to breathe. He was luckier still because the jogger happened to pass by in time to save him further injury.

What was shocking, at least to Seremban folk at the time, was that it was not one but two babies being abandoned at almost the same time, and both were left by their young mothers.

As cases of what is now called baby dumping continue to occur, numerous quarters have voiced their opinions on the subject and some solutions have been brought up; among them the need for reproductive health modules to be taught to schoolchildren and the setting-up of baby hatches where the infants can be placed in a safe environment for adoption.

When the issue made headlines again two years ago, the idea to open the baby hatch was conceived by OrphanCARE, a non-profit NGO. The first hatch was subsequently opened in Kampung Tunku.

“We have had three babies from the hatch since it started in May 2010,” says OrphanCARE president Tan Sri Faizah Mohd Tahir.

“We would prefer that they (mothers) came in to give the babies to us instead of just placing them in the hatch.

This is because there will be the problem of the child being stateless because there will be no information about them. They will still be given birth certificates but the citizenship is up to the JPN (National Registration Department) and KDN (Home Ministry),” says Faizah.

“If they bring the babies in, we will ask them to sign a statutory declaration to hand the baby over.”

OrphanCARE facilitates adoption of babies who are left at the hatch and also those who are given up by their parents. To date, it has facilitated the adoption of up to 64 babies and has a list of about 1,600 childless couples waiting to adopt. OrphanCARE handles three adoptions on average per month, Faizah says.

There are plans to open two more similar centres, one in Kota Baru and the other in Johor Baru, this year and there are hopes to set up another in Penang in 2013 as more than half of the cases they have handled are from out of Selangor.

Those who put up their babies for adoption are a varied group, according to Faizah. They include Malaysians and non-Malaysians, teenage mothers and working women. There are also cases of couples who have a child out of wedlock and give up the baby even though they would be getting married, she says.

“They want to start life afresh,” and do not want people “back home” to know that they had a child out of wedlock, explains Faizah.

Tucked away in the solitude of Kampung Tunku, the baby hatch might seem like a difficult location to find, but Faizah says it is accessible by public transport and that most visitors come by car.

“It is not by a busy road and is away from prying eyes,” she says emphasising that confidentiality was assured.

The baby hatch is open throughout the day, she says. If something is placed inside the compartment, an alarm will go off to alert the caretaker, who will be able to see what's going on via the CCTV.

Lights and the air-condition will turn on automatically if a baby is placed in the hatch.

“The CCTV camera is fixed on the baby. We will have no idea about who places the child there,” she says. OrphanCARE deputy-president Noraini Hashim says it makes sense to open more baby hatches to provide more avenues for desperate mothers.

“Most mothers do not want to kill their babies,” she says. She also strongly denies that the move to provide such services will promote pre-marital sex.

“This is about saving the lives of babies,” she asserts. Agreeing with Noraini, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Heng Seai Kie emphasises that the intent is not to encourage pre-marital intercourse but rather to save lives.

“We are supplying a safe place for mothers to leave their babies and not have them dump the children in bushes, rivers because they are afraid,” says Heng, whose ministry will work together with NGOs to establish baby hatches.

Heng also assures that mothers could hand over their babies to any of the ministry's 104 district offices without fear of being caught by the police.

“We will not take any action against them,” she says, adding that they could also visit the ministry's 58 Nur Sejahtera clinics or call Talian Nur at 15999 for help.

Housing areas have been identified as one of the main locations used for abandoning babies. Studies conducted by the police between 2004 and 2009 found that 20.4% of cases were recorded in these areas.

This was followed by rubbish dumps (15.8%), mosques and roadsides (7.4% each) and other locations (28.6%). Other locations included rivers, lakes or sea, toilets, hospitals or clinics, bus stops, bridges and restaurants.

Baby dumping is more rampant in urban areas. From 2010 until May this year, there have been 218 cases with 29 recorded so far this year.

There has been an increase in cases: 91 (2010) and 98 (2011).

Selangor recorded the most number of cases with 49, followed by Johor (27) and Kuala Lumpur (18). In 2010, 51 babies were found dead and 40 were still alive. The following year, 60 infants were found dead and 38 were alive.

For this year, 19 infants were found dead and 10 were alive.

Heng also says a reproductive health module is being drawn up for youngsters, The module which is being worked on with the Education Ministry will focus on “high-risk groups” made up of Form Three to Form Six students.

“They are the ones who are socially active,” she says.

The module, she adds, was drawn up following a pilot project carried out in five urban schools by the National Population and Family Development Board.

Childcare workers like Michelle Wong, project director for Childline Malaysia, and P.H. Wong, vice-president of the Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia, agree with the need to have better reproductive health education for youngsters and for baby hatches to be set up.

Most teenagers are unaware of where babies come from and there are lots of misconceptions on how one avoids getting pregnant, says Michelle who has observed that youngsters who do not have access to prevention such as condoms “end up wrapping cling film around their penises because it is easier to buy them.”

Wong also says that children who call their 15999 hotline have questions on various sexual health issues. They have received 14 calls on pregnancy (12 from girls, two from boys), five calls on contraception and 60 on sexual fantasies (35 boys, 24 girls and one unknown).

Including the subject of gender equality in school, she says, would also be good as it would teach both boys and girls to respect their bodies.

Wong says money could be allocated for training staff at various locations, including registered childcare centres, so they too could function as baby hatches. “They could be safe places for children and teenagers to walk in and seek help,” she says.

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