DUMPING A BABY NOT THE ONLY OPTION
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
By Sawi Lutibezi
WINDHOEK, 13 FEB (NAMPA) - All too often, Namibians are faced with a photograph of a little baby wrapped in some rags or plastic bags, carefully being removed by a police officer from wherever it was discarded.
These pictures have become so common in local newspapers that many have become impervious to it, glancing over it in search of a more interesting photograph, article or even the daily cartoon, forgetting the abandoned baby is another life lost to a problem that has become all too widespread in Namibia ? baby-dumping.
Questions remain - How does Namibia deal with this problem? How do we ensure that given the socio-economic problems the country faces, baby-dumping is lessened or, hopefully, completely eradicated?
According to the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) and Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), between 12 and 19 babies were reportedly dumped countrywide between January and November last year.
This number does not take into account babies that were dumped, but whose remains were not found.
One of the latest campaigns has seen the British High Commission in Namibia join hands with the LAC to raise awareness about alternatives to baby-dumping.
The Public Relations Officer of the British High Commission Sonny Beukes said the initiative makes information available about alternative options on baby-dumping to parents via a series of ?striking? campaign posters.
Explaining this form of awareness, Public Outreach Manager at the LAC Rachel Coomer said the method has never been used in Namibia before, hence the novelty value would make people interested.
?We are asking members of the public to show their support for the prevention of baby-dumping campaign by providing photographs of their babies to feature on the posters and circulating the posters to friends and family,? she said.
It is hoped that the posters will tug at people?s heartstrings and make women realise that preventing pregnancy by abstaining from sexual intercourse or using contraceptives is a better alternative to becoming pregnant and having to 'get rid' of their babies.
Coomer said the campaign focuses on teenagers between 13 and 19 years, and young women from 20 to 30 years, as they are the most vulnerable.
NamPol estimates that women who most likely dump babies, fall in the age group 16 to 35.
?More than one alternative is provided on the campaign posters, but baby-dumping is not the only solution to an unwanted baby,? Coomer said.
Another alternative is, once a woman is pregnant, ?working with? the father in deciding on the baby?s future. This will help as the woman then do not have to cope on her own.
Also approached to share light on the problem, World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative to Namibia, Dr Magda Robalo said baby-dumping cannot be attributed to a single factor, adding that it could be due to a rape which was not declared, or women finding themselves in relationships they don?t want to be in.
Rejection by a partner and the accompanying economic vulnerability as well as strict family, cultural and religious values, could be more reasons.
Robalo indicated that there are mechanisms in Namibia for the care of abandoned babies, but most of the time desperate mothers are not familiar with the possibilities of foster care and adoption.
She said families should firstly find ways to create a more conducive environment at home where girls can express themselves freely if they have a problem.
?In schools, we should also have counselling departments where an adolescent can talk about his or her sexual life,? Robalo suggested.
She recommended that health facilities in the country establish adolescent-friendly health services, where youngsters could feel confident enough to discuss issues about contraceptives and unprotected sex with a nurse or social worker.
?Sometimes what these mothers who dump babies need is someone to listen to them, someone who can advise them about what to do and what not to do,? Robalo said.
NamPol Liaison Officer Inspector Kauna Shikwambi said the police are embarking on a different approach this year - targeting men.
?The campaign will inform men about the consequences of baby-dumping and how best it can be avoided,? she said.
Explaining the process which is followed when a baby is rescued alive, Shikwambi said it is taken to a health facility for general observation. After observation, the baby is linked to a social worker within the Ministry of Health and Social Services, who then contacts the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare for placement either in a foster home or with a couple that has been assessed by the ministry as fit to adopt the baby.
Meanwhile, the upcoming Child Care and Protection Bill is set to provide desperate young mothers with practical options of finding a safe place for their unwanted infants.
The Bill will allow mothers to leave unwanted babies (legally) in designated places, such as hospitals or police stations, instead of dumping them just anywhere.
The Bill will be tabled during the Seventh Session of the Fifth Parliament this year.