How Malaysia's OrphanCARE Is Making Sure Dumped Babies Don't End Up Dead
Earlier on 4 November, a nude newborn baby with its umbilical cord still attached was found abandoned at a playground in Kota Bayu Emas in Shah Alam. The newly delivered infant with traces of blood on his body was found by a factory worker under a shelter at the playground.
The particular news, however, shouldn't come as a surprise or shock, for that matter.
Regardless of how terrible an act it may be, the frequency of baby dumping has risen so much in recent times that newspaper headlines and television news are filled with them. So much so that as of September 2015, there has been 87 reported cases of baby dumping in Malaysia, with Selangor recording the most number of cases at 15 and Kedah at 11. In 2014, 103 cases were reported in the country compared to 90 in 2013.
However, the actual number of babies that are abandoned is not really known and is estimated to be much higher than that. According to OrphanCare Malaysia Foundation trustee Noraini Hashim, "Bukit Aman statistics report that there are around 80 to 100 cases per year. But no one knows the real statistics, really. They say you have to times 7 of the 100 cases reported, and half of those babies were found dead."
"Dumping babies is one of the easiest ways by a couple who commits adultery and illegitimate pregnancies", says KPJ Penang Specialist Hospital CEO Aziz Abdul Rahman
In Malaysia, an estimated 50,000 orphan children can be found in shelter homes and orphanages around the country. However, an orphanage is no place for a child to grow up.
Former Secretary-General of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Faizah Mohd Tahir is convinced an orphanage is no place for a child to grow up.
"It is proven that 60% of a child's brain development happens in the first year of its life. This comes from parental attention – the smiles, kisses, touches. Do you get that in an institution? No! By 18 years old, they are asked to leave. You may hear of orphaned children growing up to be model citizens. But there are not many. 99.9% have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence," said Faizah.
According to Faizah, it's mostly the social stigma prevalent in the Malaysian society of having a child out of wedlock that acts as a major contributor to babies being abandoned. And even if an abandoned baby makes it to the safe arms of the Welfare Department, its troubles are far from over.
However, not all is lost.
With OrphanCARE Foundation Malaysia working hard to get children out of orphanages and into loving homes, there's still hope for the abandoned babies.
OrphanCARE Foundation is a non-profit organisation that aims in getting orphans adopted. The organisation, which has the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development as its smart partner, also set up Malaysia's first "baby hatch" in Petaling Jaya in May 2010 for mothers to anonymously leave their unwanted newborns to be put up for adoption. The OrphanCARE Foundation, which now has baby hatch centres in Johor Baru and Kota Baru, advocates that every child needs a family.
While OrphanCARE cannot stop baby dumping cases, it gives a safe place to do so if someone is going to dump their baby. To ensure further safety, in 2014, they signed a memorandum with the KPJ Group to provide baby hatches. OrphanCARE arranges for these babies to be adopted.
According to KPJ Penang Specialist Hospital CEO Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman, while a baby hatch was opened in KPJ Penang last year, it had yet to receive any baby due to a lack of awareness of such a service, adding that the act of leaving a baby in the hatch is not a criminal offence. Hence, he hoped illegitimate newborns could be left in a safe environment, saying they did not ask to be born, but nevertheless had the right to live.
"Many are still not aware of baby hatch places amid phobias and panic thus throwing the baby in the trash bins. The spirit of having a baby hatch is to help save babies' lives," said Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman.
Currently, 10 KPJ hospitals offer baby hatches out of its 26 networks namely in KPJ Tawakkal (Kuala Lumpur), KPJ Seremban, KPJ Ipoh, KPJ Johor, KPJ Kuantan, KPJ Penang, KPJ Perdana (Kota Bharu), [email protected] (Kota Kinabalu), KPJ Kuching and KPJ Damansara.
So far 7 babies have been saved by baby hatches at 9 KPJ hospitals.
He said KPJ has an integrated standard operating procedure for managing of the baby hatch in collaboration with OrphanCARE, including lodging a police report within 24 hours after the incidence report was made to OrphanCARE. Abdul Aziz said the baby would then be released to police, OrphanCARE and representatives of the Social Welfare Department for future adoption which had a long waiting list.
Abdul Aziz has assured that no legal action would be taken against those who leave their babies at the baby hatch. "Those who give up their babies will remain anonymous. What’s important is that the baby is safe," he said.
However, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner James Deva Nayagam holds a different view. He says, "the baby hatch project is a flop" as the system has failed to prevent baby dumping cases.
Although, that's not why the baby hatch project was started.
As we mentioned earlier, OrphanCARE cannot stop baby dumping cases. The people working for the organisation know it too well to claim otherwise and that's the reason it gives a safe place to dump babies. Because safe place or not, those who are faced with the dilemma will dump their newborn babies anyway.
Responding to Commissioner James Deva Nayagam's claims, Noraini Hashim, one of the trustees of OrphanCare, told the Malay Mail Online, "We disagree with Nayagam and consider saving just one baby's life through our baby hatch as an unqualified success, worthy of all the time and effort."
Noraini said the organisation was disappointed that negativity and pessimism came from someone who was "also in the same business of protecting human rights, especially women and children. We recognise the limitations of baby hatches in eliminating this scourge of society altogether, but being just passive observers or worse, armchair critics, do little for the voiceless abandoned babies," she added.
So how many babies has OrphanCARE really saved?
They have saved 207 babies so far.
And out of the 207 babies saved, the foundation has facilitated the adoption of 126 babies and counselled 81 mothers to raise their babies instead of giving them up for adoption.
As Noraini Hashim said, the organisation has gone beyond just operating the baby hatch in its mission to stop baby dumping, "we went one step further by educating students on the problem."
Not just that. They have also cared for girls with unwanted pregnancies until they gave birth and assisted in their babies' adoption.
"The scale and scope of the problem need a holistic solution. That is why we reach out to students," said Noraini, adding that the foundation has branches in Johor Baru and Sungai Petani.
While the OrphanCARE Foundation is often accused by religious authorities of encouraging premarital sex among teenagers, the organisation ignores the brickbats
"Our responsibility and our objective is to save lives, to save babies already born," says its Chairman Faizah, adding that more and more people are with them now. "They say it's a good thing because we're saving lives. So they're on our side now. They don't criticise anymore."