Baby dumping — who should take the blame?

God, that dumping ground of our dreams. 

– Jean Rostand, French biologist

It saddens me to read reports about baby dumping cases in the country. From 2010 to 2019, 1,075 cases of baby dumping were reported and I believe many more might have gone unreported.

Of these cases, 64 percent of babies were found dead while many of them died shortly after they were rescued.

According to national figures provided in 2019 for a 10-year period by the then Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, Selangor topped the list with 254 cases, followed by Sabah (141), Johor (127), Kuala Lumpur (83), Sarawak (71), Perak (66), Kedah (64), Penang (61), Negeri Sembilan (56), Pahang (50), Kelantan (43), Terengganu (26), Melaka (20) and Perlis (13).

But I am not sure if the figure for Sarawak given by Yeoh is accurate because I never heard local officials confirming it, or perhaps I missed it.  Nevertheless, figures obtained from our state Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Ministry during a media conference in January 14 this year revealed that baby dumping incidents in the state showed a downward trend from 10 cases in 2018 to five cases each in 2019 and last year.

Even then, it’s nothing to be proud of, as such incidents should not be happening in our society. 

Imagine coming across babies dumped in toilets, garbage areas, along five-foot-ways or in bushes where strays could be lurking. Sometime back I read a news portal report of a cleaner finding a newborn in a plastic bag while she was sorting out rubbish.

How could humans be so cruel? How did we become like this?

Society must provide an alternative solution to teenagers who are pregnant and who do not want to keep their baby. But society is quick to pass judgment on these poor girls.

Baby dumping is associated with teenage pregnancy. Issues associated with teenage pregnancy, the shame felt by these girls, the taboo of pre-marital sex and the lack of sex education are not addressed.

Worse still, there is no support from the family and eventually the girls are ostracised by their community.

According to research, more than 18,000 teenagers get pregnant in Malaysia every year. And the figures can only keep on rising without any viable solution.

I believe one way which could resolve the problem of baby dumping is to address teenage pregnancy. And how do we go about it? Sex education.

Sex in our society is a taboo topic. And the topic of sex education is an equally taboo subject.

I remember discussing the importance of sex education with some family friends some time ago when they broached the topic of teenage pregnancy but they sidestepped the topic.

There is a misconception that introducing sex education to teenagers and children will only arouse their curiosity and encourage them to have sex at a young age.

In fact, most Malaysians are under the impression that sex education will lead to more sexual activity.

Come on lah! This is a myth that has been pooh-poohed by researchers.

A United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report said children with information about sex education have fewer partners and become sexually active only much later in life, than those without.

Parents should be blamed too for teenage pregnancies as they mostly occur in the low socio-economic group where parents work double jobs and teenage children are left unsupervised.

“It portrays the anger and betrayal felt by parents upon realising that their daughter may have fallen pregnant, and instead of support, most of these families are more focused on handling the embarrassment and shame,” according to one survey finding.

The same survey revealed that 4.8 percent of our teenagers were sexually active in 2014 and the number rose to 7.3 percent in 2017.

Coming back to baby dumping. Of course, we cannot deny that the authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been making efforts to resolve the issue.

Sarawak, for example, has introduced baby hatches where teenage mothers can abandon their babies anonymously in a safe place.

Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah says her ministry through the One Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee (OSTPC) is addressing the baby dumping issue by conducting an integrated and holistic programme called Sexual Education Awareness and Advocacy (KAPS).

She also welcomes private hospitals and NGOs to set up baby hatches to prevent babies from being dumped in an unsafe environment. 

Since the establishment of the first hatch at the KPJ Kuching Specialist Hospital, five babies have been saved.

While I take my hat off to this laudable effort, there are reservations from certain quarters as they feel that it would only encourage more unwed teenage mums to dump their babies, though safely.

Anyway, they are entitled to their opinion. But I have a request to the authorities to consider: Please introduce sex education!

Think about it.