Friday, 18 October 2013

Safe place for unwanted babies

Once criticised for further encouraging social ills, Malaysia’s first baby hatches are proving to be a way out of the woods for many a new mother who cannot or does not want to keep her child.

Four years since its inception in 2009, 133 babies have been received at its three centres in Johor Baru, Kota Baru and here. And the number has been growing by some three babies every month.

The OrphanCare Foundation, which runs the centres, said the women who left their babies at the centres were between the ages of 15 and 32. Most girls say their parents were unaware that they were even pregnant.

“There are many cases where the parents do not even realise their daughters are pregnant, even when they are living in the same house,” said the foundation’s trustee, Noraini Hashim.

Most of the babies, she said, were given up by young mothers because they were afraid to tell their parents and families.

“We have always advocated celibacy but we want people to know that if they do get pregnant out of wedlock and don’t wish to keep the child, there is a safe place here for the baby instead of dumping the child elsewhere,” she said.

According to figures from the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), some 257,000 babies were born out of wedlock in the country from 2002 to 2012.

A survey conducted by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, meanwhile, indicated that over 10% of secondary school students were sexually active, with many of them having had multiple sex partners.

Of the 133 babies left at the three baby hatches, 50 of the young mothers had a change of heart and decided to keep their babies after speaking to counsellors there.

The centres took in 83 babies, all of whom have since been adopted. Of the babies received, 52 were Malay, four Indian, two Chinese and 16 other races. The races of another nine were undetermined as they were left there by mothers who wanted to remain anonymous.

Forty-five were girls and 38 were boys.

At the baby hatch, there is a small air-conditioned space to place the baby outside the premises. The mother has to open the door, place the baby in the space and shut the door, after which an alarm goes off to alert the staff.

Noraini said she was surprised that only nine of the babies had actually been left in the hatch by mothers who preferred to remain anonymous.

“All the other women, who usually come alone or with friends or even with one parent, enter the centre, speak to us and provide us with the necessary documentation for the baby.

“This makes the adoption process much easier as we would also know the race and religion of the child.

“We first try to convince them to keep their babies, especially if they are in stable relationships and plan to eventually marry their partners,” she said.

After the baby is taken from the hatch, the foundation gets its doctors to conduct a full medical check-up after which the baby is given up for adoption.

The priority is given to couples who have been married for more than five years and do not have children.


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