Why do moms abandon their babies?


This story was written in 2010 but is as relevant today as it was then.

Following a spate of reports of abandoned babies in and around Cape Town, members of Parliament and medical professionals have offered explanations for and solutions to the problem.

In trying to make sense of this tragic occurrence, I examined recent news reports.


438 babies were abandoned for the year until March 2010, says Western Cape MEC for Social Development, Patricia de Lille. Penny Whitaker of Cape Town Child Welfare says that there hasn’t been a spike in the number of abandoned babies, but a steady increase.

Why are babies abandoned?

Baby abandonment happens because adoption and abortion are frowned upon in "certain cultures", says an NGO that assists young Cape Town women with unplanned pregnancies. Young pregnant women are lead to believe that neither adoption nor abortion is a viable option for them. It’s not clear to which cultures they are referring.

Poverty and alcohol and substance abuse were the reasons, suggested by Patricia de Lille.

Paediatrician Michelle Meyer believes that HIV/Aids is the reason behind baby abandonment, as half of abandoned babies are born to HIV-positive mothers.

Gender inequality is a cause behind baby abandonment, according to the DA’s Helen Zille. Men or boys make babies and then walk away, leaving the responsibility of raising the child to the mother.

An inability to communicate with family members and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the pregnancy was the reason offered by teacher Emmerentia van Wyk. She said that young mothers felt abandoned by the father of their children as well as their community.

Justin Foxton of Stop Crime Say Hello, says that baby abandonment might be an extreme form of the maternal instinct. Some young mothers feel that the baby would be better off without them and place their babies in a spot where they intend them to be discovered.

What is the answer?

According to the Jubilee Health Centre, counselling is the answer. A representative from the centre said that young women with unplanned pregnancies feel overwhelmed but “the moment we actually talk with them it makes so much of a difference”.

Patricia de Lille says that programmes on sex education and awareness will address the problem, while Emmerentia van Wyk argues for “teenager-friendly clinics” where girls will feel comfortable asking for help.

At a recent emergency summit called by Patricia de Lille, psychological screening of young pregnant women was offered as a solution. Mental illness and depression can lead to baby abandonment and women who are tested for these problems could be offered counselling and social services.

Speculation vs action

My faith in the human race leads me to concur with Foxton: Feeling overwhelmed and abandoned because you’re experiencing an unplanned pregnancy must lead to desperate measures. Surely a young mother is incapable of truly abandoning her baby and intends for the baby to be found by someone "more qualified" than her to care for him or her?

Whatever the cause, speculation on the causes of this tragedy must result in action. As Patricia de Lille said, the emergency summit must lead not only to recommendations but decisive action.

What do you believe is the cause of babies being abandoned? What can we as society do to help both scared moms and vulnerable babies? Send your comments to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them. If you'd like to remain anonymous, kindly inform us.

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