LETTER | In our country, where "baby dumping" occurs once every three days, finally the government is addressing this crisis. However, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail's campaign aiming to address the problem may be a good start but it is far from enough.
From 2010 to May 2019, there have been a total of 1,010 recorded cases of baby dumping. Out of those, 64 percent of the babies were found dead, and the majority of the others died shortly after they were rescued. The main sites where babies were found were in homes, toilets, and garbage sites. The last recorded case was when a cleaner found a newborn girl in a plastic bag while she was sorting out rubbish. Her umbilical cord was still attached to her belly button, there was no heartbeat, she was cold.
It is hard to grasp this sickening trend of living human beings, filled with potential, being discarded like trash. How have we gotten here? And are Wan Azizah’s recent measures too little too late?
So far, her campaign has provided a number of ways to curb this toxic reality including "locality mapping" and "strategic intervention" in areas that have become "hot spots" for baby dumping. She also called on women with unplanned pregnancies to contact the ministry’s “Talian Kasih” hotline as well as putting up awareness posters in male and female toilet cubicles at rest areas nationwide.
There is no doubt that it’s a start, but it seems more like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound than an attempt to get to the root of the problem. Problems like the shame put on women who get pregnant out of wedlock, the taboo of pre-marital sex, attaining contraception, and of course the poor-quality sex education among young Malaysians.
First, there are legal amendments that must be implemented. The majority of baby dumping cases are a result of unwanted teenage pregnancies. Research shows that in Malaysia, 18,000 teenage girls get pregnant each year, the vast majority of them are unplanned. All of a sudden, these women are found in a totally punitive environment where they can be persecuted for various acts including religious laws. Abortion is not an option since it is heavily regulated and allowed only in “life or death” cases however most doctors will still refuse to perform abortions based on religious grounds.
These pregnant women are left feeling like lepers, unsure regarding where to go for help and whom they can confide in. These poor girls are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, between raising an unplanned child with no support or having an illegal and unsafe abortion that may cause them serious complications in the future.
Then there is the problem of the attitudes towards health and sex education. A recent survey showed that one in every three Malaysian men believe teaching sex-ed will lead to more sexual activity. This is a microcosm of the larger problem. Without proper education, our youth, especially young women are incredibly vulnerable. They do not have the knowledge, nor the legal ability to obtain contraception if needed, they feel ousted by their community who would rather ignore their "uncomfortable" situation than "get their hands dirty" with education and information, and they are left totally desperate.
Last but certainly not least, is the stigmatisation and discrimination of teenage and unmarried women that fall pregnant by society, communities, and even their families. Social acceptance of teenage pregnancy is poor, restricted and totally secluded. Most of the time a teenage pregnancy occurs in the lower socio-economic group where parents work double jobs and teenage children are left unsupervised and bored, needing attention and validation.
A Malay proverb heard in these parts goes "Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat" (Let the child die but not our traditions). It portrays the anger and total betrayal felt by parents upon realising their daughter may have fallen pregnant and instead of support, most of these families are far more focussed on handling the embarrassment and shame caused by their daughter if people find out about her pregnancy.
Just imagine finding yourself in a situation where legally you are committing a crime, socially you are a piranha, and physically you are vulnerable and confused, all while being a teenager trying to find your place in the world. This is a reality for many young women in Malaysia, one that is the leading cause of the trend of baby dumping that we find in our country.
I thank you, Wan Azizah for beginning the dialogue around this topic but I urge you, the government, and society as whole to push for more. To address the root causes and to heal this sickness infecting our nation, so that no woman shall feel that baby dumping is ever a valid option.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.