Dumping our babies

By 23:05

Sick to my stomach. That’s how I feel every time I hear about a baby dumped. That’s how I feel when I see the photos. So I wait for the news to be over or I scroll down the page so I don’t have to see the graphic images. Graphic images that say more than the 30 second news inserts. Each of those images tell a tale of a cruel society where our most vulnerable are thrown away like a half eaten sandwich or yesterday’s newspaper. Those images and the emotions conjured up make me sick and then moments later, my mind’s preoccupied with another task and I forget. I forget until I hear another story of a baby dumped and then I feel sick again.
Imagine a world where condoms and contraceptives are free and available at your nearest clinic. If that doesn’t stop an unwanted pregnancy, abortion is safe and legal. If you’re pro-life, there are adoption agencies that can take care of your child when you deliver. If you change your mind once you see a precious child that you created, there’s government grants than can help you support your baby. We are living in this world and still our news reports hundreds of babies dumped in trash cans every year in South Africa.
As much as baby dumping is becoming increasingly common, it isn’t a new phenomenon. Literature is filled with tales of child abandonment and as romanticised as the fairy tales are, I can’t help but wonder whether it is simply a case of art imitating life. One of my favourite plays tells a tragic story of Oedipus Rex. Before he was even given a name, his parents ordered a servant to kill the newborn. The servant couldn’t bear to kill a little baby and instead left the child to die on a mountain top. 400 years before Christ, an act of baby dumping introduced a trilogy to entertain an audience in Dionysia.  
The reason for Oedipus’ dumping was because of superstition. I’m not sure what the reasons are today but it must leave women in a dire position to leave their babies in a toilet – the babies they carried for nine months and laboured to deliver.
Maybe she’s still a child and isn’t emotionally mature to understand the consequences of getting rid of a baby. Maybe she’s emotionally scarred from rape. Maybe her sugar daddy that financially helped her impoverished family disappeared. Maybe she’s afraid of shaming her family by having a child out of wedlock. Maybe she doesn’t know how to raise a child without support from the baby’s father. Maybe she’s HIV positive and wants to spare her child a slow painful death. Maybe she isn’t aware of the options available for an unwanted pregnancy. Maybe she has post-partum depression. Maybe she’s experienced all of this – not uncommon in a HIV- and poverty-stricken country with a failing education system where rape of girls is rife.
Despite his doomed fate, Oedipus was lucky to be found just as some babies are rescued from being buried alive. Sadly, not all babies are this fortunate as their lives end before it can even start.
Unicef’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child says that children have the right to love and understanding, preferably from parents and family, but from the government where these cannot help. It’s easy to blame the family for taking away a child’s right. If a mother is guilty of baby dumping, she faces charges of murder with imprisonment. Brilliant solutions for isolated incidents but the growing number of cases brought to media attention implies a national crisis. How is the government not guilty of not protecting children where there is no one to take care of them? And what is their punishment? Do they even feel sick to their stomachs like I do?
Government has done amazingly well to put measures in place to prevent unwanted pregnancies and take care of unwanted babies. Their approach now is Ah well. We tried. That’s not a valid excuse. Churchill said that you measure the degree of civilisation of a society by how it treats its weakest members. With that sentiment then, we are not civilised. There is no sense in playing in a global world, attaining economic freedom or even hosting the Olympics when our weakest members are drowned.
Unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix. It’ll come with developing our nation. We need to bring our people out of poverty so that they have access to educate themselves about available options. Rapists need to be put behind bars. Girl children need to be empowered so that they aren’t overpowered by men. Boys need to be taught about the consequences of their actions. Our churches, temples and mosques need to stop ostracising out-of-wedlock pregnancies and start embracing these women and helping them.
And while these may take a generation or more to overcome, we need to get fulltime nurses and social workers into schools now. We can’t turn a blind eye at the teen pregnancies. They are happening – to girls as young as 10. We need someone to talk to the kids at school and to follow up with girls who haven’t been to school in a few weeks. The best way to educate a nation is to start with our children. They need to keep hearing about preventing pregnancies and they need to be aware of their options in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. This may increase abortion rates. More unwanted kids will be put into homes. And that is a more humane problem to deal with than the barbaric acts of throwing babies in the bushes.
Oedipus Rex grew up to be a king and once said that with clear sight, he was blinded by his inadvertent crimes. Only once he became blind was he able to see the truth. We have clear sight but are we seeing our inadvertent crimes?

You Might Also Like


  1. I recall discussing this very topic, well just not this in-depth with @stef_muller yesterday on our way to Jhb for the MMMAR meeting. Rather saddening that humans do this to the defenceless.

  2. Good read. Maybe something regarding inflation and petrol prices will be a good topic as well. Look forward to it.