/ 15 September 2017

Did she abandon her baby?

Did she abandon her baby?
(John McCann)

‘The body of a baby girl was found this afternoon wrapped in a plastic bag at the intersection of Pylstert and Gouws in Raslouw, Centurion. It is believed that the little girl’s body was spotted by a member of the public who had been passing by.”

The ER24 statement was factual. Just this, nothing more.

It raises many questions. Who is the mother? How old was she? Did she give birth on her own? Did she conceal her pregnancy? Why did she want to conceal the birth? Was the baby born dead?

The price of properties for sale in Raslouw reflects that it is not a poor area. A road trip via Google Street View down Pylstert and Gouws shows the pavements are grassed and the streets are lined with trees.

A swoop over the houses gives a view of well-maintained homes and gardens that are neatly manicured. Many have swimming pools.

Opposite the intersection of the two streets is the Little Giants Nursery School, with guttering painted in the primary colours.

Why did she leave the infant near a nursery? Was she a teenager who lives in Raslouw or perhaps an employee from one of the businesses or houses? Was she from a neighbouring suburb or further away?

If it was not stillborn, she chose to abandon the infant. Did she consider the alternatives? South Africa offers women the option of abortion and of adoption. There are even baby “bins” or hatches where mothers can safely, secretly and anonymously drop off their newborns (admittedly there are very few, sprinkled here and there in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban).

Why didn’t she have an abortion or put the child up for adoption or drop it in a baby hatch?

Finally, the main question: What was the cause of her desperation?

Why, what, who? There are seemingly few answers.

Little is known about abandoned babies. Statistics, for obvious reasons, are hard to come by.

A study published in April last year by the Medical Research Council (MRC) found that 53.2% of the children under the age of five who had been killed were neonates, giving a neonaticide rate of 19.6 per 100 000 live births and an infanticide rate of 28.4 per 100 000 live births.

“The majority of the neonates died in the early neonatal period and abandonment accounted for 84.9% of all the neonates killed,” the report stated. “Abandoned neonates were mainly term babies, with a mean gestational age of 38 weeks.”

The study had no information on the motives for abandoning newborns.

But many abandoned babies are left in public places in the hope that they’ll be found and saved. Many aren’t.

Children’s rights activist Robyn Wolfson Vorster wrote in the Daily Maverick (July 2015): “It was 2014 when Dee Blackie, a consultant to the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa, released her seminal report challenging all of our conventional viewpoints about abandonment. The key contributing factors read like a laundry list of all of our societal ills: poverty, the breakdown of traditional kinship support systems due to HIV and Aids and urbanisation, rape and statutory rape.”

A Carte Blanche report in July last year said abandonment most frequently results from desperation, the breakdown of the family, cultural beliefs, incest, “blessers” and the women themselves being abandoned by the child’s father.

The report also said about 3 500 children are abandoned each year (a 2009 figure for Gauteng), but these are the infants who survived. Estimates are that only one-third of abandoned children survive.

It quotes the MRC research that reports that 65% of abandoned children are newborns, and 90% are under the age of one. A large number of babies have also survived a late-term abortion, many of which could have been illegal. About 52% to 58% of abortions in South Africa are illegal.

This research helps to answer many of the questions. And makes obvious one thing: girls/women in most instances have very little control over what happens to their bodies.

But two things are known about the mother of the newborn found in Raslouw, Centurion.

The infant was wrapped in a plastic bag — not tied up for disposal — and she left her newborn in a public place.

The mother cared. And she was desperate.