South Africa’s Children’s Act declares: “In all matters concerning the care, protection and wellbeing of a child, the standard that must be applied is that the child’s best interest is of paramount importance.”
However, caring for the wellbeing of children seems to be an ongoing and often resource-dependent effort.
Gary Stanton, who, with his wife, Kerry, established the Upper Highway Baby Home in Durban, a nonprofit organisation caring for abandoned babies, knows this all too well.
“Financial security is currently our biggest challenge. We’ve spent a lot of time on social media trying to attract funding and we’ve sent out applications for grants, but the cost of running the home mostly comes out of our own pockets,” Stanton told City Press this week.
“It’s also been hard getting volunteers during the lockdown because people are being careful. But, unfortunately, even during this time, abandonment hasn’t stopped.
“We’re allowed to take in six babies a year, but we’ve exceeded capacity and now have eight. It’s heartbreaking when we have to turn babies away because we know that a lot of childcare homes are also full. This is a deep-rooted issue that puts a strain on our country and the economy, and it doesn’t get much attention.”
Factors leading to abandonment
Last week, the Gauteng health department expressed concern about the number of babies who are being abandoned at birth in hospitals across the province.
“This year alone, 118 babies have been abandoned in various public hospitals. Hospitals with a high rate of child abandonment so far are Carletonville (19), Leratong (19), the far East Rand (13), Tembisa (10) and Chris Hani Baragwanath (10),” the department said.
Goitsemang Botes, head of social work at Leratong Hospital, said a child was considered to be abandoned if “they are under the age of 18 and are left in a hospital for 90 days or longer”.
“In some cases, mothers give birth and are discharged before their baby. The mothers then don’t make any contact with the hospital regarding their baby for three months after being discharged. That’s when we consider the child abandoned,” said Botes.
• Teenage pregnancy;
• Socioeconomic reasons such as poverty;
• Parents feeling like they won’t be able to take care of the child;
• Parents preferring a boy and so abandoning girl babies;
• Women not believing in the termination of pregnancy and abandoning the child instead; and
• Parents abandoning a baby who is born with special needs.
“We’ve had babies who were in a bad state of health when they were brought in,” Botes said.
“Some were found under bridges by the police, others come in shivering from being left in the cold. Unfortunately, we’ve had babies who passed away before getting to the hospital.”
She added that, while babies did not know they’d been abandoned, they may grow up with a number of behavioural and psychological problems.
“They may feel like they are not worthy, and may suffer from anxiety, depression and attachment disorders. They may exhibit needy behaviour, be excessively possessive or develop have low self-confidence.
What happens when parents want their child back?
Botes said it was common for parents to reclaim their child after abandoning them, however, the process was not straightforward.
“We’ve had a woman who came to look for her child after abandoning them for seven years. She told us that she had consulted a traditional healer when things were not going well in her life. According to the healer, the ancestors were not happy that she had abandoned her child, which is why she came back to look for the child.
“Sometimes mothers abandon children if they have issues with the fathers, or if the fathers deny paternity. They then come back to reclaim their kids later,” Botes said.
“The process often requires the department of social development, the police and the courts to get involved to determine whether the parents are fit to take care of the child.”
Meanwhile, Stanford said that part of their job was to ensure that children were not abandoned in the first place.
“We run programmes where we try to support expectant mothers, particularly young ones, to prepare them for motherhood. We’ve been successful as a family and have adopted a child ourselves. We realise the importance ensuring that children feel loved and protected.”
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