Every case of baby dumping is a human tragedy. A tragic story not only involving the individuals concerned but also their families. And it also reflects the failure of our society to deal with this issue.
I was upset and devastated by the report of a newborn abandoned in the rubbish dump of a supermarket in Ipoh back in early 2010. The baby was saved from a wild dog in the nick of time by an alert passerby. I felt that something needed to be done to save innocent lives like these. These babies did not ask to be born in the first place but, nonetheless, they have the right to live.
Having heard of OrphanCare in Kuala Lumpur, in my capacity as the medical director of KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital at that time, I put forward the suggestion to build a baby hatch at our Emergency Department. KPJ management did not need much persuasion to adopt the suggestion as its corporate social responsibility project. The first baby hatch in a Malaysian hospital was launched on Dec 27, 2010.
Currently there are eight hospitals in the KPJ Group providing baby hatches: two in KL (Tawakal and Damansara), one each in Ipoh, Johor Baru, Kota Baru, Kuching, Seberang Perai in Penang, and Seremban. The hospitals in Peninsular Malaysia collaborate with OrphanCare, which handles after-care and the adoption process.
There seems to be no sign of abatement in baby dumping, as reported in "Nine babies dumped every month" in Sunday Star on Aug 9, 2020. From 2015 to June this year, police had recorded 652 cases; 65% of these babies were found dead as they had been unceremoniously dumped in secluded, filthy places likes dumpsites, drains, toilets – some might even have been buried alive.
These babies would obviously have a much better chance of surviving if they were deposited in a baby hatch, which provides a safe, secure environment and immediate professional care. To make these baby hatches readily accessible, we need more of them located in strategic places. I think it is high time that the Health Ministry, with its wide network of government hospitals, take up the challenge to provide this service. Baby hatches should preferably be placed within hospital compounds as some of these babies may require urgent medical care.
I totally disagree with the idea that more baby hatches will encourage baby dumping. In fact, the whole purpose of the baby hatch is to provide a safe alternative site and prevent dumping baby in places that can endanger their survival.
Baby dumping is indeed a complex and sensitive social issue that has its roots in misinformation, poor education (sex education in particular), lack of family support, weak religious values, drug abuse, etc. I appreciate the effort by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to focus on preventive measures like conducting sexual and reproductive health awareness courses and improving legal literacy among adolescents on the legal consequences of infanticide and sexual offences. I believe that the ministry also provides counselling and rehabilitation for teenagers who become pregnant out of wedlock.
All this information must be made easily available to the public, especially adolescents. However, such information is deemed sensitive and tends to be hushed up because of the unwarranted fear that this type of information will encourage immoral activities by the young people. This is the same illogical argument that says more baby hatches will encourage more baby dumping; likewise, more sexual health information will encourage immoral sexual behaviour!
It is heartening that the ministry also offers counselling help through its Talian Kasih 15999 hotline or WhatsApp number, 019-2615 999. Additionally, I think there should be a dedicated hotline to deal with unintended teen pregnancies. This hotline should be well publicised and available 24/7 and should be operated by dedicated, professional and sympathetic staff similar to a platform like the Befrienders.
No doubt, in the eye of the law, infanticide is a criminal act. But to charge a teenage mother with murder, which carries the death sentence, or even manslaughter may be far too harsh considering that at the time she dumped her baby, she would not have been in her right mind – she would have been confused, frightened, guilty with shame and in anguish, with no one to turn to. She was probably not aware of the consequences of her action. The baby is the innocent first victim but the mother is also a victim, the second one. We should treat her with compassion, understanding, counselling and guidance.
DATUK DR FADZLI CHEAH
Consultant neurosurgeon, former medical director of KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital