An Abandoned Bundle - A poem that is real to this day
Born to be dumped
KATHARINE CHILD and GRAEME HOSKEN | 29 May, 2012 01:0212 Comments
The body of a newborn baby, dumped in a storm-water drain in Marabastad, Pretoria, is removed yesterday Picture: DANIEL BORN
The only evidence of the birth of a baby girl was an emergency blanket lying on a Pretoria pavement and a stone keeping the wind from blowing it away.
Beneath the blanket lay the tiny lifeless body of an infant, its umbilical chord still attached. The infant had been wrapped in pieces of newspaper, put in a black plastic shopping bag and dropped into a storm-water drain.
The horrific discovery came within days of a foetus being dumped in Pretoria's Church Square, less than a kilometre away.
Born on Sunday - a day before Child Protection Week started - the abandoning of this newborn offers a small glimpse into what appears to be becoming a far too regular occurrence in cities across South Africa.
Kelvin Khumalo, who found the baby at around 10am, described what he saw yesterday.
"I looked under the bridge. I saw blood and feet. I was not sure that it was a baby but when I looked again I realised it was. I could see the umbilical chord floating in the water."
The baby had become like "normal" debris in the drain - plastic, rubbish, wire, old blankets, rotting food - and was kept company by large scavenging rats.
But government departments appear to shy away from the problem of child abandonment.
When asked for comment on the phenomenon, Sello Mokoena, spokesman for Gauteng's department of social development, said he did not know the extent of the problem. More research, he said, was needed.
"Given current media reports, it would seem the problem is increasing. One cannot emphatically say it is. This issue needs to be researched."
Mokoena said the department had received reports only of 10 babies being abandoned in Gauteng in the 2011-2012 financial year, but he admitted that the problem was under-reported.
But the discovery of the lifeless newborn baby girl yesterday must be viewed within the context of growing concern about the welfare and safety of South Africa's children and their vulnerability.
In its 2011 report on South Africa's children, Unicef said that 86600 were in need of care and 500000 were in foster care.
Of the country's 19million children, 45% were sent to child- and youth-care centres after being abandoned. About 4000 cases of child neglect are reported to the police annually.
Yesterday, Johannesburg Child Welfare social worker Rose Miya said her organisation received nine abandoned babies a month.
She ascribed this to poverty, saying it was the key reason for mothers believing that they had no choice but to dump their babies.
But Johannesburg Child Advocacy Forum convenor Luke Lamprecht said abandoned babies must be seen in relation to "a massive level of inaction when it comes to protecting children".
"Both the government and society are not doing enough to mitigate the impending disaster, which the violation of children's rights will result in."
Lamprecht said speaking in legal terms when describing what was happening to children sanitised the true horror of the situation.
"We need to call the abuse of children's rights by what it really is. We must ensure that our children get the protection they deserve.
"Sanitisation has resulted in massive numbers of abandoned children being hidden away from the very means needed to protect them.
"South Africa's children are abandoned on multiple levels by families, communities and the government.
"The government has a right to ensure the protection of children, society has the right not to infringe on their rights, and parents are required to enforce both these rights."
Lamprecht warned that, if the rights of children continued to be ignored, South Africa could "end up with a group of children with serious psychological problems who will continue the cycle".
"Children's rights begin with a name at birth, and their right to protection, safety and a loving family."
Lisa Pfalzgraf, a volunteer for Doors of Hope, a Christian group that runs homes for unwanted babies in Johannesburg, said the organisation had been looking after 54 abandoned babies for the past few months.
Priscilla McKay, a member of the Child Welfare NGO, said the problem had become worse.
"It is definitely something to be concerned about," she said.
Childline's national training and advocacy manager, Joan van Niekerk. said: "The cumulative number of living abandoned babies this year is at its highest.
"Child Welfare earlier this year said it had 2600 abandoned babies on its caseload countrywide.
"I am surprised that there are not more abandoned babies, given the lack of services. When young mothers are discharged from hospital there is no assessment of their emotional health, wellbeing or capacity to be a parent.
"If the mother has been abandoned by her family there is very little support. There is nothing done to stop women from dumping their babies.
"We talk about mothers and hold them responsible, but many times the mothers are abandoned by the baby's father."