As we begin another Child Protection Week, child protection organisations and advocates are asking the question: do babies actually matter in South Africa?
The continued increase in incidents of child abandonment, child abuse, child neglect and child murder seem to be telling us that sadly they do not. Over the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children (November 2017), an intensive campaign run by veteran child protection activist, Luke Lamprecht, called #BabiesMatter, provoked the rather depressing conclusion that not all babies do matter. Perhaps the most significant questions are “why” and “what do countless births not celebrated and deaths not mourned”, say about us as a society?
“Figures compiled in Gauteng show that for every abandoned child found alive, two are found dead.”
Child abandonment continues to be a major challenge in South Africa:
- It is estimated that around 3 500 children are abandoned annually in SA, approximately 300 per month.
- However, this figure only includes survivors, the total number of abandonments is far higher.
- 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% of abandoned children are newborns and 90% are under the age of one.
- Many abandoned babies have already survived a late-term abortion.
- 52-58% of SA abortions are illegal (up to 150 000 per annum).
- 70% of abandonments are unsafe and many babies are never found.
A number of legislative challenges serve to increase rather than decrease child abandonment in SA:
- Safe abandonment is illegal in South Africa, so all of the country’s baby safes 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 place 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.
- Cultural beliefs and concerns around 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 family due to falling pregnant.
- 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.
What can be done?
- Changes to government policy:
- Lowering the age of consent for adoption placement.
- Facilitating safe abandonment through implementing safe haven laws.
- Revising xenophobic policies regarding foreigners and barriers to adoption.
- Policing of illegal abortion practitioners.
- Recognition and research:
- Conducting quantitative research to understand the scope of the problem.
- Listing abandonment in crime and mortuary statistics to quantify the problem.
Pregnancy initiatives are essential to support vulnerable women and lessen the risk of them making the tragic decision to abandon.
The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (NACSA) is an NGO that represents the child protection community, including social workers, crisis pregnancy homes, child and youth care centres, places of safety and adoption. Its vision is to unify and empower our communities and society, to create positive and permanent change in the lives of our children. Find out more at: www.crisispregnancy.org.za / www.adoptioncoalitionsa.org