June 19, 2010

Hatch a practical solution, for now

Nuraina Samad

SO far the reaction has been one of shock and utter dismay: "Oh my God! Oh no, not another one!"

There is also a tangible sense of helplessness, which is understandable because it is a problem that you and I are not able to deal with or overcome. Not by ourselves. And certainly not by the end of this year, or the next.

Tell me, how does this grab you? Baby dumping; discovering dead babies, usually newborn.

In the last six months, have you not been shocked, appalled, dismayed by the all too frequently reported cases of abandoned babies, some of whom were found dead?

The frequency is so alarming that you know something is so wrong in our society.

You know what you can put your finger on, but you can knock yourself out trying to fix the problem which, by the way, is shocking everywhere else, too.

It is a good sign that people in Malaysia have not been numbed by the frequency of the occurrences. It shows that it is not being dismissed as "one of those things".

So, before it does become a senseless crime that has found a way of being part of Malaysian life, something must be done, surely.

Consider the fact that as of April, there have been 24 cases of babies abandoned in, among others, a rubbish dump.

There was a case of a baby found dead in a river; another found buried. These are tragic and the circumstances leading up to them must have been equally tragic.

The number of these cases is way too high for any decent society. Unless we consider ourselves otherwise, we cannot be unperturbed.

Sometime this year, when reports of abandoned babies seemed to come in succession, someone suggested that their fathers be castrated.

Whether or not it is a good idea is quite immaterial. It showed desperation in trying to deal with what seemed to be an insurmountable problem.

It gets trickier because it touches on moral and religious issues. Also by the fact that these babies were born out of wedlock.

It is about shame and the treatment of shame by a society that is having to deal with fast-paced socio-economic change and transformation.

It was not surprising that when OrphanCARE, a non-profit non-governmental organisation, decided to set up a baby hatch at its premises in Petaling Jaya -- the first in the country-- reactions were mixed.

OrphanCARE's objective is straight and simple -- to save unwanted babies. Now, isn't that good?

To the naysayers and critics, it is a bad idea because it will encourage premarital sex, out-of-wedlock babies, and of course the dumping of these babies at the hatch.

Premarital sex, I hate to tell you, is here to stay until and unless we drastically change the way we live our lives in this modern world.

Imagine, even among married couples and the most educated in the world, accidents do happen. But married couples have options -- to keep or terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Unwed girls in our society don't because society crucifies them for their carelessness, recklessness, and complete disregard of moral and religious values.

I'm convinced that the girls who abandoned their babies are no criminals but were driven to criminal acts by the situation they were in. By their sense of helplessness and desperation.

That said, their act of abandoning babies cannot be condoned. Still, I can never look at them as criminals.

So what do we do? Keep on getting worked up every time a case of baby-dumping is reported?

At this stage, we can blame everyone and everything, but that's not going to save the babies because the world will still go round and crimes get committed.

The fact is, that latest statistic on baby dumping will not be the last.

So, ours should not be to moralise. Ours is to help better society in the best way we know how. And society must want to be helped.

Sure, we should be educating our kids on sex and related subjects. Even this is being debated and no decision is likely to be made soon.

Everyone's doing their bit to educate society on compassion and humanity.

Any positive and constructive outcome will not be immediate because we are made up of diverse people of diverse beliefs and convictions -- not all of them good.

Meanwhile, we have unwed girls getting pregnant and dumping their babies, a serious problem with no solution in sight, except the fast and furious from moralists and the religious right. Which is a solu-tion either impractical or unacceptable.

We can debate what is wrong with our rapidly changing society in a rapidly moving economy until, as they say "the cows come home", and we'd still be arguing the petty points, going nowhere, achieving nothing.

Baby hatches are not new. They have been in existence through the centuries, from medieval times. The reason for their existence was and still is, to rescue and save unwanted babies.

The baby hatch in Petaling Jaya, opened on May 30, is modelled on similar services in Germany, Pakistan and Japan.

The hatch has a small door which opens to an incubator bed on which a mother can place her baby.

Once the door is closed an alarm bell will alert the NGO's staff to the baby's presence, after the mother has left.

Now that it is in operation, OrphanCARE and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, which is supporting this initiative, should work on details and procedures affecting follow-up action on the adoption of these babies.

The baby hatch is not a permanent solution. It was never meant to be. But it is clearly the most practical solution under the circumstances as it offers safety and security for these babies, and the women who feel that they have no other option.

Until and unless we can make right the wrong in our society, a hatch that rescues and saves babies will have to do.