“Do babies matter in South Africa?”
This is the big question being asked by child protection organisations and advocates as there are increasing incidents of child abandonment, child abuse, child neglect, and child murder.
“During the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children in November 2017, an intensive campaign, called #BabiesMatter, which was run by veteran child protection activist, Luke Lamprecht, came to the rather depressing conclusion that not all babies actually matter. Perhaps the most significant questions raised are ‘why’ and ‘what do countless births not celebrated, and deaths not mourned, say about us as a society?’,” the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (Nacsa) said in media statement.
Child abandonment continues to be a major challenge in South Africa: It is estimated that about 3 500 children are abandoned annually in the country. That’s approximately 300 per month. However, this figure only includes survivors – the total number of abandonments is far higher. Nacsa said figures compiled in Gauteng show that for every abandoned child found alive, two are found dead.
“A recent Medical Research Council study on child homicide reveals that children in South Africa are at the highest risk of unnatural death in the first six days of life. Research shows that 65 per cent of abandoned children are newborns, and 90 per cent are under the age of one.Many abandoned babies have already survived a late-term abortion. 52 to 58 per cent of South African abortions (up to 150 000 per annum) are illegal,” Nacsa said.
A number of legislative challenges serve to increase rather than decrease child abandonment in South Africa:
• Safe abandonment is illegal in South Africa, so all of the country’s baby safes actually operate unlawfully
• Girls under the age of 18 can consent to an abortion, but cannot place a child for adoption without the consent of a parent or guardian
• Foreigners fear deportation if they try to place a child for adoption. Others lack the formal documentation required to put their children into the child protection system
• Abandonment is no longer listed as a violent crime in South Africa or included in crime statistics. Nor is it listed as a cause of death in South African mortuaries. There is therefore no accurate tally of how many children die as a result of abandonment
• To date, no formal research has been completed by the government to track abandonment, and no measures put in place to counter it
Studies show that abandonment most frequently results from:
• Desperation due to poverty and unemployment
• A breakdown of the family, often due to mass urbanisation or HIV/Aids
• Cultural beliefs and concerns about the formal practice of adoption
• Gender abuse in the form of rape, incest and ‘blessers’ or ‘sugar daddies’
• Women themselves being abandoned by the child’s father or their families, because of their pregnancies
• Government policy is also a huge contributing factor, as is anti-adoption sentiment on the part of many state officials
• Endemic problems like poverty and abuse are hard to address, so child abandonment is likely to continue long-term
Changes to government policy that could alleviate the problem:
• Lowering the age of consent for adoption placement
• Facilitating safe abandonment by implementing safe-haven laws
• Revising xenophobic policies regarding foreigners and barriers to adoption
• Policing of illegal abortion practitioners
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