The debate on whether government has the capacity-both in terms of financial and human resource requisites- to sustainably nurture babies abandoned by mothers, is gaining momentum.
Although the move to open its doors for mothers who do not want their babies has been made public by government, social workers feel there is need for added advocacy and that government can prevent baby dumping.
According to a 2010 UNICEF report on children and adolescents in Namibia, 13 dead babies are found every month at the sewage works in Windhoek.
The ministry through the Child Care and Protection Act is advocating for the decriminalising of baby dumping. This means that a mother can anonymously leave the baby at a safe place with a note indicating her wishes not to harm the child. These cases are then reported to social workers in the ministry who will ensure the child is protected and cared for.
The number of vulnerable children across the country has been on the increase last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare registered 87 460 Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) to receive social grants.
There are currently 158 498 boys and 17 445 girls who are registered on the grant system.
In January this year, the ministry recorded that 328 943 OVC in total are receiving grants, an increase from 261 183 during the same period last year.
Dainess Amukwelele, a social worker by profession, reiterated the need for community awareness when it comes to sex affairs.
She said females will continue finding themselves in situations where they cannot take care of the new born babies unless sexual education is given the prominence it deserves.
“Yes baby dumping is a cause of concern as it is escalating on a daily basis. Baby dumping is one area that needs advocacy and the government can achieve prevention of baby dumping in partnership with other stakeholders as well as the community. It is the community’s responsibility to ensure that they support girls and women who carry unprepared pregnancies in order for the girls and women to have the right information and resources, services of alternative child care if they cannot take care of the babies.”
“The best solution to baby dumping is sexual reproductive health awareness whereby unprepared/unwanted pregnancies can be prevented. The best solution is for the expectant mothers to report themselves to the Ministry of Gender Equality where social workers will then advise them in regards the options available for alternative care for the babies and guide them through the process of pregnancy”.
Amukwelele said there are persons and organisations willing to take care of unwanted babies and children.
“In many cases the fathers are not held accountable. I have experienced cases where women do not want to reveal the fathers of the babies because they were denied and broke off their relationships. In some cases these fathers are aware of pregnancies but decide to deny responsibility simply because they no longer want to continue dating the mothers. This does not and should not be a reason why fathers run way. Children should never suffer because of the parents. Its takes two to make a child. Therefore fathers must own up to their responsibility and be accountable. We need men who will accept their mistakes and face consequences of their acts and take care of the children,” she said.
Amukwelele urged the government and child care providers to advocate for alternative child care options and for the concerned families to either foster or adopt children to approach officials so that they are included on the family register. This assists the government to place children under care whenever an emergency may arise.
In instances where the baby is born and left abandoned, the Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Services would first make sure the baby’s health is stabilized.
“The Minister referred to provisions on the Child Care and Protection Act which will allow the establishment of safe places where unwanted babies can be left so that they can go into foster care or be put up for adoption, without exposing the parent to prosecution if the baby is unharmed.
That law is not yet in force,” said Dianne Hubbard who is Coordinator, Gender Research & Advocacy Project (GR&AP) at the Legal Assistant Centre in Windhoek.
Hubbard believes that more support needs to be availed for the new mothers and public education should be conducted on post-partum depression, as a preventative measure.