Strict religious, social doctrines fuelling baby-dumping

Phillipa Jaja

Cases of baby dumping are on the rise in the country. The Zimbabwe Republic police’s twitter pages indicates that at least eight cases were committed since the beginning of this month.

 In the case that a baby dies after being dumped the matter is treated as an infanticide case. Infanticide is thus the act of deliberately causing the death of a very young child (under 1 year old).  Neonaticide is another term used to describe the deliberate act of a parent murdering their own child during the first 24 hours of life. 

In Zimbabwe, infanticide is a criminal offense which attracts an imprisonment sentence regardless of the circumstances for a period not exceeding five years.

Zimstats says though Zimbabwe total recorded infanticide fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to increase through 2011 – 2015 period ending at 156 in 2015.

UNICEF in 2014 noted that aapproximately 95 000 child were murdered each year globally, and being murdered in childhood is strongly associated with age, gender and geography.

Speculative reasons for baby dumping range from poverty, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and ignorance of programmes that exist to assist mothers take care of their children to societal stigma whereby people may ridicule and have negative stereotypes against babies born outside of marriage.

Whatever reasons there may be, baby dumping is a serious issue tearing at the country’s moral fabric. Mothers have discarded their moral obligation of being caregivers. Their gentle and nurturing nature has been replaced by a callous nature that is oblivious to the cry of a defenceless soul.

A baby’s natural protector has become the enemy. Innocent lives are being discarded without any consideration for their well being. Open lands, garbage bins and even bushes are now dumping grounds for infants who are sometimes even aborted.

No excuse is good enough to justify the abandonment of babies and subsequently infanticide. More so, as the law provides for an Act that stipulates alternative ways such as fostering, adoption and care facilities as a way of helping these mothers.

Father Taylor Nyanhete, national director at Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children Zimbabwe (ZNCWCZ) whose organisation runs some shelter homes for abandoned children, said the basis of this law should communicate to mothers so that they desist from committing infanticide.

“There is no need to lose babies as there is a provision in the Children’s Act where a pregnant woman can go to the Department of Social Welfare and indicate that they are unable to look after the baby after conceiving. In return, the Department usually helps take care of the baby until the mother is able to do so by herself. This is called foster parenting and the Social Welfare department will first ascertain a mother’s capability first before returning the baby into her care,” he said.

“In addition, there are mothers that would have been raped and for some reasons maybe healthy ones get to keep the baby but would not want anything to do with it afterwards. There is also a provision for that whereby the baby will be placed for adoption so that there will be no future interactions with it whatsoever. Birth records are destroyed and so is everything that ties them to the baby in any way allowing them to carry on with their life as normal as before.

“In any case, maternity care is free in the country to extend help to socially deprived mothers so that they get to keep their babies. In all this, the bottom line is to seek help as early as possible so that mothers are made aware of alternative avenues to take before taking the desperate route of bay abandonment”

However, he pointed out that socialisation issues usually contribute marginally which makes mothers not take advantage of these initiatives available to them.

“Baby dumping is a result of a socialisation problem we have as a society. People tend to look down and stigmatise pregnant women that become victims when relationships suffer or end. No one ever thinks to caution the man child on issues of responsibility so they leave women to be single mothers.

The issue of single mothers is a real issue which is not being properly addressed in public spaces. Unfortunately the negative narrative being touted has resulted in people being unsympathetic towards the plight of women.

A lot of men do not study women and so are insensitive to their needs and wants resulting in their brokenness which sometimes culminates in baby abandonment issues. However understanding the underlying causes can help come up with tailor made solutions to the problem through giving mothers support and reassurance.”

In addition to support initiatives, communication is key to make mothers open up and not resort to drastic acts of infanticide.

Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) pastor and professional counsellor Tonderai Kanongora said counselling is critical when approached for help.

“There is need to understand through enquiries the motives driving mothers who do such so that we are able to offer help and conscientise them. There is need to give these people a second chance as well highlighting the future benefits of keeping that unborn child.

As a pastor, I am against the Christian church’s handling of the whole affair as it is labelling and judging mothers who find themselves in that predicament. Yes, it is indeed wrong by church doctrines to be tolerant of mothers that contemplate and eventually dump babies, however I feel that good Christian counselling will discourage anyone conceiving such ideas.”

Some infanticide lobbyists argue that the crime is committed in self-defence than an insensitive gratuitous cruelty. This is because of the wide ranging reasons given for baby dumping and abortion such as poverty, lack of spousal and parental acceptance to avoid backlash.

However, such reasons pale in comparison to the alternative solutions available. Therefore, it is important that we speak with one voice when we say no to baby dumping and yes to offering solutions to avert it.

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