KUCHING: Just last week, Sarawakians were shocked by a baby dumping incident in the middle of the road at the city centre.
The issue became the talk of the town and netizens were furious. Many questioned why the mother resorted to such a decision and viewed that she could have just sent the baby to a ‘baby hatch’.
A baby hatch is a safe place where parents who are not able to care for their baby can anonymously ‘leave’ their baby there so that it can be safely cared for until it can be legally adopted; instead of the baby being dumped in an unsafe environment.
In 2018, 10 cases of baby dumping were reported, while in 2019 and last year, there were five cases respectively, and as of Jan 18, there was one case reported.
Recently, Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said that her ministry, especially the Social Development Council (MPS) together with its strategic partners, will continue to carry out programmes and activities to reduce teenage pregnancies, pregnancies out of wedlock, and baby dumping.
“Special focus on risky behaviours leading to unwanted pregnancies is in place, and efforts have shown that there is a drop in teenage pregnancies in Sarawak and there is no increase in baby dumping cases,” she said.
She said there is a need for a holistic and integrated approach to educate not only girls, but boys, parents and the community on our collective responsibility towards this issue including the dangers of teenage pregnancies, identifying and avoiding risky behaviours, and providing support systems for unwed mothers.
Fatimah shared that in 2017, there were 2,130 cases of teenage pregnancies, 2,153 cases in 2018 and 1,976 cases in 2019.
Now the question is should we maintain baby hatches in our society? It is still a very much debated issue today where some viewed that baby hatches could save abandoned babies while some viewed that baby hatches encouraged baby dumping.
KPJ Kuching Specialist Hospital was the first to provide the baby hatch service at its facility in 2017. The project was a strategic partnership between the private hospital at the state’s One Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee to reduce the number of abandoned babies in Sarawak.
However, New Sarawak Tribune learnt that the hospital’s baby hatch service is no longer available after it had just recently upgraded and moved to a new location at Jalan Stutong last year.
KPJ Kuching Specialist Hospital medical director Dr David Ling Sheng Tee, when contacted on the updates of the baby hatch service provided by the hospital, said as the hospital had just moved, the hospital’s management is still in the process of identifying a suitable site for the baby hatch which takes safety and confidentiality into consideration.
“We see baby hatches as important to save innocent babies who otherwise may be abandoned in locations which endanger their lives,” he said.
On whether other private hospitals could also provide baby hatch facilities, he said KPJ Kuching is trying to do their best in addressing the needs of the community.
“When we started the baby hatch service in 2017 until last year, there were five babies sent to the baby hatch — unfortunately, one died and four were sent to the Social Welfare Department,” he said.
Punishment is not going to stop babies from being dumped
Sarawak Mental Health Association president Dr Ismail Drahman said there is no straightforward solution on the issue of baby dumping.
He said there are many aspects that need to be looked into, such as legal, social, moral, religious, culture and psychological aspects.
“One of the ways to reduce baby dumping is what KPJ Kuching has done, which is a short term measure. We also need to have a special line for unwed pregnant young girls or women to call and get help early,” he said.
He stressed that in Malaysia, it is wrong to abort and dump a baby, thus, the authorities concerned have to really sit down and look into this matter thoroughly to prevent dumping of babies as punishment is not going to stop it.
“Getting pregnancy or delivering a baby out of wedlock has a lot of psychological trauma, especially among young girls.
“Their actions can be irrational at that time. People may think that the person dumping the baby may be heartless,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) president Margaret Bedus also echoed Dr Ismail’s views that there is one solution to tackle the problem of baby dumping.
“As had been mentioned for the nth time, it has been proposed to come up with a comprehensive sex education programme which includes reproductive and social health to equip our young with information to make proper decisions and to educate them about their choices.
“There should also be more parental involvement, especially in the ‘growing’ (teenage) years of their children to prevent teenage pregnancy,” she said.
Margaret said the strong societal stigma attached to unwed mothers, along with the prejudices, the feelings of shame and fear, the desperation and the lack of emotional support from family members are some of the underlying reasons why baby dumping occurs.
“Baby hatches are good to save unwanted newborns, and I do hope that KPJ Kuching can continue to provide the baby hatch in their new location,” she said, adding that such a facility must be made known to the public.
She added that a strong support system such as adoption programmes and shelter for unwed mothers or teens should be set up too.
More baby hatches need to be set up
Following the recent baby dumping issue in Kuching, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said both the federal and state governments should look at setting up more baby hatch services throughout Sarawak.
“This is not just to protect innocent lives and avoid baby dumping incidences, but to also spark a greater need and initiative to educate the public on the risk of teenage pregnancies and other factors that give rise to such an issue,” he said.
He stressed that the public should also be educated on all the available support systems so that those involved will not resort to jeopardising an innocent life.
“It was very saddening and heart-breaking to hear or read the news and even see pictures of a lifeless newborn baby sprawled on the ground recently in Kuching. Many steps can be done in order to avoid this, especially in providing support for unwed mothers, teenage mothers and those affected so that they are not alone,” he said.
He mentioned the hatch service which was once available at KPJ Hospital and hoped that the hospital and other private healthcare facilities would consider providing a baby hatch once more and the government should look at expanding such facilities to every district in Sarawak.
“This is not in any way to encourage teenage pregnancies or pregnancies out of wedlock, but to provide a last resort option to allow mothers who have given birth to illegitimate babies and didn’t wish to keep them. Such precious life is then given an opportunity to live and be given proper care, medical checks and medical treatment if needed,” he stressed.
He said while he recognised the limitations of baby hatches, it does act as a last resort to protect the interests, rights and safety of the child.
“The abandoned babies should not be punished for the mistakes of their parents, but given an opportunity to grow up and fulfil their potential in a supportive environment,” he said.
Dr Yii also pointed that the baby hatch facility should provide opportunities for mothers or guardians considering abandonment to have informal discussions, if they wish, with nurses or social care staff in full confidentiality.
“The staff members need to be well-educated and non-judgemental when talking to the mothers or guardians. They need to have great insight into the needs and issues that surround abandoned babies,” he said.
He pointed out that to properly address the issue, there must be a holistic and integrated approach to educate the community on the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
“So, while education is the first line, a baby hatch does provide a last line of defence per se, especially when considering the right to life for the baby,” said Dr Yii.
Meanwhile, the need to have more baby hatches was also raised by former Miss World Malaysia, Larissa Ping Liew, who has advocated the importance of baby hatches through her social media platforms.
Disagreeing with the view that having more baby hatches would encourage baby dumping, she said baby hatches are proven to help reduce the number of baby dumping cases, and hopes to see every district set up such facility.
Citing Orphan Care, a non-profit foundation which runs three baby hatches in Peninsular Malaysia, she said with the availability of baby hatches, over 400 babies have been saved last year.
“That is how much baby hatches can save, and I believe that if there is more awareness on baby hatches, more babies can be saved.
“Initially, when I shared about the baby hatch that was in Kuching, I realised that so many people did not even know about it. There is still a lack in awareness regarding this issue in our state,” she said.
She added that while ProLife Kuching does offer services to help girls with pregnancy crises in Kuching, she also hopes that they would set up a baby hatch too.
“One of the issues is also the stigma towards pre-marital sex and is one of the contributing factors to baby dumping,” she said.
On what the government and private sectors can do to solve baby dumping issues in the state, Larissa said it goes back to the very root of the problem — education.
“I believe that sex education should be taught early, especially to teenagers. I know that this would be difficult to implement because some people view that it would encourage pre-marital sex which is against many religions,” she said.
She added that the government and private sectors as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can highlight the issue of teenage pregnancy and the effects of baby dumping.
Those that are in need of help or counselling can always call the Sarawak Welfare Department at 082-449577 or 082-444139, or ProLife Kuching which provides free series to all, irrespective of race and religion at its helpline at 082-413454.