Address root causes of baby dumping
Published on: Sunday, November 03, 2019
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IN Malaysia, where baby dumping occurs once every three days, the government seems set on addressing the crisis.

From 2010 to May 2019, 1,010 cases of baby dumping have been recorded. Out of those, 64pc of the babies were found dead, and the majority of the others died shortly after they were rescued.

Recently, a cleaner found a newborn girl in a plastic bag while she was sorting rubbish. The baby’s umbilical cord was still attached to her belly button, there was no heartbeat, she was cold.

It is hard to grasp this sickening trend of living human beings, filled with potential, discarded like trash. How have we arrived here? And does (Women, Family and Com-munity Development Minister Datuk Seri) Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s campaign aimed at addressing the problem go far enough?

So far, according to the news report, the ministry’s campaign has provided a number of ways to curb this toxic reality, including “locality mapping” and “strategic intervention” in areas that have become hot spots for baby dumping. Also, women with unplanned pregnancies can contact the ministry’s “Talian Kasih” hotline, and awareness posters have been put up in male and female toilet cubicles in rest areas nationwide.

There is no doubt that this is a start, but it seems more like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound than an attempt to get to the root of the problem. Problems like the shame put on women who get pregnant out of wedlock, the taboo of premarital sex, the difficulty of getting access to contraception, and, of course, the poor quality of sex education among young Malaysians.

First, there are legal amendments that must be implemented. The majority of baby dumping cases are a result of unwanted teenage pregnancies. Research shows that 18, 000 teenage girls get pregnant in Malaysia each year, and the vast majority of the pregnancies are unplanned.

All of a sudden, these women find themselves in a totally punitive environment where they can be persecuted under various laws, including religious laws. Abortion is not an option since it is heavily regulated and allowed only in “life or death” cases (however, I’ve heard that many doctors will still refuse to perform abortions on religious grounds).

These pregnant women are left feeling like lepers, unsure about where to go for help and who they can confide in. They are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, between raising an unplanned child with no support, or having an illegal and unsafe abortion that could cause serious health complications in the future.

Then there is the problem of our attitude towards sex education. A recent survey reported in another daily showed that one in every three Malaysian men believe sex education will lead to more sexual activity.

This is a microcosm of the larger problem. Without proper education, our youth, especially young women, are incredibly vulnerable. They do not have the knowledge nor the legal ability to obtain contraception if needed, they feel alienated from a community that would rather ignore their “uncomfortable” situation than “get their hands dirty” with education and information, and they are left totally desperate.

Last but certainly not least is the stigmatisation of and discrimination against teenage and unmarried women that fall pregnant. Such attitudes are evident not only in society at large but also within the girls’ own families. A proverb I’ve heard that says “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat” (Let the child die but not tradition) portrays very well, I feel, the anger and total betrayal felt by parents when they realise their teenage daughter is pregnant. And so, instead of providing support, the family focuses on handling the embarrassment and shame if people find out about the pregnancy.

Just imagine finding yourself in a situation where legally, you are committing a crime, socially, you are a pariah, and physically, you are vulnerable and confused – all while being a teenager trying to find your place in the world. This is the reality for many young women in Malaysia that is, I believe, the leading cause of this increasing trend of baby dumping.

I thank you, Dr Wan Azizah, for beginning the dialogue on this topic, but I urge you, the government and society as whole to push for more. Address the root causes to heal this sickness so that no woman shall feel that dumping a baby is ever a valid option.

JC, Kuala Lumpur

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