Namibia must tackle the issue of so-called ‘baby-dumping’ a different way. The conservative mindsets of past generations are insufficient to handle this deadly challenge. Rather than punishment, communities must look at what drives a girl/woman to do the unthinkable to her infant.
A solution to this problem lies in focusing on why it happens. What is going on with the birth mother? Far too often, the first response to reports about finding another newborn baby discarded is about whodunnit. This allows the problem to repeat itself.
It is time to get our heads out of judgmental church prayerbooks when seeking to protect newborns. Antiquated cultural or traditional beliefs must be set aside. Social media debates must give information about what young girls and women need when they are pregnant.
Step One – Namibians must stop using the ancient terminology about a woman ‘falling’ pregnant. One ‘falls’ down and gets hurt. Devils are ‘fallen’ angels. ‘Falling’ arches are painful. A ‘fall’ from grace is humiliating. And so on. Saying that the biological reality of reproduction is ‘falling’ assumes something bad about having a baby.
There have always been girls/women who have chosen to hide pregnancies, give birth alone, and then abandon the infants as if they are not living souls. Families and communities have known of this problem for decades, but they are well-practised at covering up unpleasant truths.
Some understanding can come from reading about negative post-partum impacts on women who have given birth. This is never an excuse for murder or child endangerment. Still, it is one potential piece of the puzzle to help explain why this happens.
The lack of reproductive rights for women is not the root cause of baby-discarding, though it is likely a factor. But the problem is deeper than abortion laws. Some articles suggest that even if birth control methods were freely available and the ability to terminate a pregnancy safely was accessible, newborn babies may still be tossed away by some birth mothers. When the baby was conceived, a situation could greatly change for the worse (from the mother’s perspective) by the time the baby is born.
Lack of awareness is a cause of baby discarding. How many young girls have adult females in their homes who ignorantly refuse to tell them about menstruation, eggs, sperm, and pregnancy? There are sexually active girls/women who have never heard of the words: ‘fetus,’ ‘fallopian tubes,’ ‘ovaries’, ‘testicles’, ‘erection’ or ‘ejaculation.’ Conservative old women, traditional churches and cultural norms are a problem when it comes to sex education. Unwanted babies are paying the price.
Selfishness is a cause of baby discarding. Girls and women do not want to put their babies first in their life plans. Men who make these babies do not see the child as their responsibility; they see it as her problem.
Namibian culture must shift. Adoption and foster care must be accepted as viable options for children in difficult situations. A child that is unwanted, misused, unloved, raised in self-hatred, spite, and child labour is just as ‘dumped’ as the infant put in a shallow grave. How many young mothers have no idea how to put their babies up for adoption?
Families must resist creating a ‘rejection environment’ for their pregnant daughters inside the home. This is a cause of baby discarding. Rejection at home can make girls/women blame the baby for their problems.
Some women believe that having a baby is dependent upon their relationships with the baby’s father. Society must develop tools for women to separate the two issues. Far too many women who discard their babies, refer to the baby’s birthfather as the ‘reason’ why they acted in an unthinkable manner.
Poverty is the root of many evils; baby discarding is only one of them. When a mother is hungry and without life’s basic needs, how can she feel that a baby is anything other than another burden.
Young pregnant mothers lose time in school. If they return to study, they are subject to social pressures for being an unmarried baby-momma. Some teachers look down their noses at young mothers returning to the classroom.
Women are working basic jobs that lose employment due to a pregnancy and then have childcare challenges once they are born. Economic hard times often leads to child abuse on all levels as pressures mount.
Society must begin to sensitively and non-judgmentally unpeel this onion to get to the core of the situation. We must rethink how we deal with the issue of women and girls who discard their living infants.