World News Day 2020

Malaysia: Why there’s a crying need for ‘baby hatches’

Yuen Meikeng /The Star | Updated on September 27, 2020

An OrphanCare staff member demonstrate how an “unwanted” baby may be deposited in the baby hatch set up by the NGO, thus giving the baby a new life. PHOTO: AZHAR MAHFOF/ The Star

In response to rising instances of ‘baby abandonment’, a non-government organisation has set up centres where babies can be anonymously given up – for adoption

A non-government organisation in Malaysia has come up with a counter-intuitive strategy – of setting up ‘baby hatches’ across the country – to reduce instances of unsafe abandonment of babies.

OrphanCare Foundation, the non-government organisation, works along with the government to address a social problem, which sees at least nine babies abandoned every month – and in some cases, left to die.

But the “baby hatches” – where the mothers or others can drop off “unwanted” babies anonymously – provide the babies a second shot at life. Many of them are being offered for adoption. In scope and strategy, the ‘baby hatch’ programme is similar to the “cradle baby scheme” implemented in Tamil Nadu by former Chef Minister Jayalalithaa to prevent cases of infantiide or baby abandonment.

“It isn’t a crime to put a baby in a baby hatch,” says Noraini Hashim, a trustee in OrphanCare Foundation. The hatches are air-conditioned, safe and have a 24-hour CCTV inside that notifies the caretaker when a baby is deposited in the hatch. The camera does not identify the mother.

“The baby hatch is a secure facility, and the infant’s life will be protected. It is, however, a crime to abandon a baby in an unsafe area,” points out Hashim.

Hoping that many more people will take cognisance of this difference, OrphanCare is looking to set up more “baby hatch”” centres across Malaysia.

Between January and June this year, there were 53 reported cases of baby-dumping, according to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. That’s an average of about nine babies a month – many of whom were found dead.

From 2015 to June this year, there have been 652 recorded cases of baby abandonment; of these, 65 per cent of the babies were found dead, says Malaysian Royal Police’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigations Division Assistant Director, Supt Siti Kamsiah Hassan.

“Most of them were found in housing areas, toilets, garbage disposal areas, sewerage systems and drains. These are common dumping grounds because there are no CCTV cameras; they are less frequented by the public and are easily accessible,” she tells The Star.

Complex social problem

The abandonment --- or worse – of baby is a complex and long-standing societal problem. Earlier this years, an 18-year-old student who allegedly flung her newborn baby out of a 13th-floor apartment unit was charged with murder, which carries the death sentence upon conviction.

Many cases of abandonment of babies involve young mothers who lack support, sex education and awareness. Organisations like OrphanCare believesthat more baby hatches can be set up as safe places for the babies to be given up legally for adoption. The ‘baby hatch’ programme, however, has its fair share of critics, who argue that it could encourage baby dumping.

Currently, OrphanCare runs three baby hatches in Peninsular Malaysia, while seven others are operated in collaboration with KPJ Hospitals. OrphanCare is hoping to collaborate with the government to have more such hatches, especially in rural and remote areas, says chief operating officer Yuzila Yusof.

“We would like to have more hatches, especially in government hospitals. So far, there are none in Sabah and Sarawak provinces,” she points out. Disagreeing with the view that having more hatches would encourage baby dumping, she believes that more hatches would mean more babies saved instead of dumped indiscriminately.

Since 2010, OrphanCare’s baby hatches have saved a total of 420 babies; of these, 252 have been adopted, while 155 others were parented by their birth mothers. The remaining 13 were referred to the Social Welfare Department.

Fifty per cent are walk-in cases – babies with a known source, such as the birth mother, family or individuals who said the baby was found elsewhere. About 30 per cent of the babies were placed in hatches by unknown sources, while 20 per cent are babies of girls who seek shelter with OrphanCare from their seventh month of pregnancy until delivery.

In some cases, the babies under OrphanCare’s protection were eventually taken out of the shelter when the birth mother decided to take care of her own baby. As for the birth mothers, most are students but there are also married women who face domestic issues. About 60 per cent of the women who deposit their babies in the hatch are aged between 24 and 35.

Education, not punishment

Yosof feels that the charge of manslaughter, which are invoked in cases where young girls who abandoned their babies to their death, is very heavy, given that the girls may not be fully developed to make good decisions.

“She may have lacked information, especially reproductive health awareness and the consequences of sexual acts. Rather than resorting to punitive action, there should be more emphasis on addressing the root causes why these pregnancies out of wedlock occur,” Yusof says.

As for the babies in hatches, they are given for adoption to potential parents who sign up with OrphanCare. If twins are placed in the hatch, the adoptive parents must accept both babies. “The couples have to register and meet the criteria: they should have been married for over five years and be childless, Yusof explains. “They will be interviewed and their homes will be inspected. They will also be given training, as being an adoptive parent is different from being birth parents,” Yusof explains. But in the long term, it is better for Malaysians to have more sexual awareness so that teens will know how to make better decisions for themselves, she reckons

But until that time, when the root causes of a societal problem are addressed, these life-saving baby hatches should not be frowned upon by society. “They should be seen as a solution to a problem. They do not add to the wrongdoing, but are instead a way to help those in trouble,” Yusof adds.

The article originally appeared in The Star and can be accessed here

Published on September 28, 2020

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