Since the start of the national lockdown, children’s organisations have seen not only a rise in newborn babies being abandoned but even older children.
Two weeks ago, the Gauteng Health Department raised the alarm on the number of children abandoned in the province’s hospitals since the beginning of the year.
More than 118 babies have been abandoned in Gauteng hospitals.
Nadene Grabham, operations director at Door of Hope Children’s Mission in Joburg, said since the start of the lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, they have had to take in 19 babies.
“For the same period last year we took in 14 babies. We have gathered stats from similar organisations like ourselves and the overall outcome was that most of them have seen an increase in the number of children they have taken in, many of which were abandoned babies. Sadly, in media reports, more than 50 babies were found abandoned in unsafe places, of which 33 were found dead,” Grabham said.
She said while usually newborns got abandoned, they were seeing an increase in older babies needing to be taken in.
She said that last year they took in three babies older than a month and this year the number went up to five.
“However, we have received more referrals of older children this year than any previous year as well as many referrals from organisations that we do not normally receive referrals from.
“The reason being that the homes they normally are placed with are most likely full. Parents are perhaps abandoning older children due to loss of income and employment. Mothers who have given birth during lockdown have also commented that they have been unable to get grants for their newborn babies.”
Youandi Gilain, who runs Open Arms SA on the Bluff, Durban, also said it had been harder for parents who gave birth during lockdown to get grants.
“Lockdown has caused us not to be able to work and not be able to get money. There is no support for mothers; they have not been able to get grants and even jobs. Parents are desperate and don’t know how to take care of their children.
“We network with other organisations. We have found far more abandoned children in bushes, bins, streets and also in hospitals; mothers just leave (them) because they have no idea what to do. Because of the lockdown, there is no money and nowhere to look for jobs. In crisis people react differently.”
Grabham said to stop the abandoning of children, mothers needed more support from society.
“Society is very quick to judge mothers who are not able to care for their babies and then abandon them or give them up for adoption. We have to place ourselves in these mothers’ shoes.
“We do not know the circumstances they have been placed in. More often than not, the father abandons the mother once he finds out she’s pregnant. Some mothers have commented that they do not receive support from their families and communities and have to face their future alone.
“Some women fall pregnant due to rape; poverty also plays a big role in babies being abandoned. We must also not always assume that it is the mother abandoning the baby, it could also be the father or another family member or even a pimp.
“Rather than judging or casting out these mothers, we should help them find places of safety or crisis pregnancy centres as well as support them emotionally,” she said.
Grabham advised parents in distress to contact social workers or even their local churches for help.
“There are many baby boxes where parents can safely relinquish their babies, as well as places of safety and crisis pregnancy centres, all a phone call away. Do not give up and do not abandon a baby in an unsafe place where they could die,” she said.
In June, the Department of Social Development said they weren’t aware of the increase in child abandonment cases. They encouraged people to report the cases to authorities.
On Monday, the department was unable to give an update on the latest numbers because of a late request.
“Covid-19 is causing great social and economic challenges for many families as their circumstances are changing. The department remains committed to the delivery of all child-care services, while ensuring the safety and well-being of children is paramount this time.
“One of the alternative care options that the department renders to children in need of protection is adoption which gives them a permanent or stable family life,” the department said in June. It urged communities to report cases of child abandonment to social workers.