Our nation’s current legal response to baby dumping is inadequate to provide long-term, holistic solutions needed to address this problem. The recent decision to charge these new mothers with murder or attempted murder would lead to greater stigmatisation and would be more likely to incite fear, rather than encouragement to reveal their pregnancies. Although nothing can excuse the abandonment or murder of a child, our society need to focus more on effective preventative and rehabilitative measures rather than on punitive measures.
For a start, we need to know why baby dumping cases are on the rise in our society. Research into the social and psychological reasons that drove these girls to abandon their newborn babies is essential. These new mothers could be young or underage and may be suffering from postpartum depression. Additionally, they may be faced with seemingly insurmountable economic and social pressures such as a total lack of emotional and social support from their family and friends.
At this stage, we can begin to formulate an informed multi-sectoral strategy to address the problem. Beginning with the youth, outreach programmes in schools and communities should be launched to increase young people’s awareness of reacting responsibly to their sexuality, and this should include discussions on creating healthy relationships with the opposite sex based on respect. For the pregnant women, these young, often underage women are in need of non-judgemental support, such as those given through appropriate counselling along with pre- and post-natal care. For those who get evicted from their family homes, the creation and advertising of places of safety or shelters is vital. Similarly, for the unwanted infants, OrphanCARE’s and government’s initiatives in creating baby hatches for their deposit and care is much welcomed and a big step forward for our country in increasing our social responsibility. This could be supplemented by increasing public awareness of the need of adoption and foster care arrangements for these babies. Lastly, we should consider the provision of rehabilitative services, rather than the punitive measure of murder charges against the mother after the baby-dumping incident.
In fact, other countries have considered the death penalty and chosen other alternatives to respond to baby-dumping cases. Consider the “safe haven” laws in United States, where all 50 states have enacted some version of it by 2008. These laws encourage parents, usually mothers, to bring their unwanted babies to a safe place where the baby will receive proper care and protection until an adoptive home can be found. Furthermore, these laws allow the parents to remain anonymous and to be protected from prosecution for abandonment or neglect as long as the infant has not been abused or mistreated and is left in one of the designated safe havens. The UK on the other hand, has created a separate charge of infanticide, rather than to mix it with a murder charge, recognising the mother is more a threat to herself than to society. Under the Infanticide Act, the UK courts have to take into account the unusual psychological and biological factors which affect the new mother, and if convicted, the sentence would be akin to that of manslaughter.
As a country aiming to be a developed society by 2020, we should not settle for a quick-fix panacea only. Let us not stray from the vision of the national and international goals that we have set for ourselves: to eliminate discrimination against women, to protect the rights of children, and to be a mature community-oriented democracy that can be a model for other countries.