Drive against baby dumping welcomed, but…

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail with her deputy Hannah Yeoh at the launch of a campaign against baby dumping in Dengkil on June 28. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A rights activist has called for assurance that the campaign to curb baby dumping will be a sustained effort and one that includes the changing of attitudes towards those who get pregnant out of wedlock.

Sharmila Sekaran, who heads the non-profit Voice of the Children, said babies would still be dumped regardless of any number of campaigns if these were short-term and aimed at nothing more than creating awareness of the issue.

She welcomed the initiative by the women, family and community development ministry, but she told FMT there was a need to change people’s mindsets so that they would be supportive of unwed mothers.

Launching the campaign recently, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said 577 cases of baby dumping were recorded between 2014 and 2018.

Sharmila said unwed mothers or mothers-to-be shouldn’t always have to rely on NGOs and the welfare department for support.

“Families and communities need to be engaged so that support comes from within,” she said.

“Also, all hospitals and maternity clinics need to be safe spaces for women and girls to deliver their babies without fear of being reported and where babies can be received if the mothers are unable to care for them.

“Points where babies can be handed over immediately after delivery need to be easily accessible, and notices such as those placed on toilet doors need to say where the nearest point is.”

Sharmila said one of the aims of the campaign should be to help unwed pregnant women and girls early in their pregnancies so that they would not be in fear.

Someone in a state of fear or experiencing physical, mental or emotional difficulties after delivering a baby might not be in the state of mind to think of the baby’s survival, she said.

She called for a help system in which an emphasis would be on seeking out pregnant and unwed women and girls. “We need to go to them, not expect them to come to us.”

Tan Heang-Lee, an official of Women’s Aid Organisation, welcomed the apparently compassionate approach the government was taking in the campaign.

However, she urged Putrajaya to address the fundamental issues behind baby dumping, which she said included the need for better sex education and access to contraception.

Majidah Hashim of Sisters In Islam (SIS) welcomed the campaign initiative of opening up channels for the safe delivery of babies.

She said SIS applauded the women, family and community development ministry for trying to remove the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock pregnancies by reaching out to the affected women and girls through public means.

“Nevertheless, the fact that illicit sex is still an offence under the Syariah Criminal Offences Act poses one of the biggest barriers preventing young women from coming forward,” she said.

“There have been many cases in which young women in shelter homes were called for investigations, adding to the stress and trauma they experience.”