Baby boxes 'not so shocking'

Georgina Guedes

I must confess that I am not disturbed by the "shock" photos of babies in cardboard boxes that appeared on the front page of The Star newspaper earlier this week.

It is not that I am callous and unfeeling, it's just that I looked closely at those babies and I could see that they were clean, clothed and covered with warm blankets, and so I wasn't too concerned about their wellbeing.

I think that it's tragic that the largest hospital in the country cannot provide proper beds for newborn infants, but I don't think it's shocking or atrocious or, as some media interviews have suggested, an infringement on human rights.

Babies dying in droves in hospitals - now there's a problem. Unsterilised instruments being used in operations - that's shocking. Patients with broken jaws waiting for hours in queues for an operation only to be told to come back next week - atrocious.


Healthy babies sleeping blissfully unaware in cardboard boxes - not so much. Although, since cardboard boxes are a dime a dozen, it would probably better to limit the numbers of babies per box to one, even if they are keeping each other warm.

Baragwanath's baby mortality rate is only slightly higher than the national average. The number of stillborn babies is lower. While "only slightly higher" is still unacceptable and bears investigation, I don't think it's the cardboard boxes that are doing it.

It is the other details, further down in the story, to which we should be turning our fervour. The idea of mothers giving birth on mattresses bloody from the previous birthing; of newly admitted mothers in labour packed together on five beds in the centre of a room because of bed shortages are far more worthy of the outrage of a nation.

It's the heightened sensitivity around anything to do with babies that irks me. Of course they are precious, to their parents and because they represent the future of our nation, species or whatever, but the real human rights abuses are happening elsewhere, in the violence, rapes and murders taking place every day.

Mocking the real issue

For radio stations to bandy about "human rights abuses" when applied to healthy sleeping babies in unconventional bedding is to make a mockery of the real issues facing our country.

However, since there is such heightened sensitivity around babies, to use them as a symbol for the rallying call to improve conditions in the Baragwanath maternity unit is, I suppose, effective.

I just think that a far more effective image, that drills down to the core of the problem, would be those mothers crammed onto rusty bloody beds for the duration of what should be a joyous event in their lives. Now there's a human rights abuse.

And I would replace many things at Baragwanath, like much-needed drip counters and adult beds, or fill the one fifth of the healthcare posts going vacant at the hospital before turning my attention to the cardboard boxes.

  • Georgina Guedes is a freelance journalist. Her aunt slept in a shoebox after she was born because she was so small - she's OK.

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