It was recently reported that a baby estimated to be less than a week old was found to be in good health after being abandoned in a yard in Sundumbili, KwaZulu-Natal. This is a good story to tell because abandoned infants often do not survive.
Due to structural and systemic hurdles, many women and girls from underserved communities struggle to get access to safe abortion services. In addition, the fact that undocumented immigrants may face deportation should they try to legally place their children in a formal child protection system is a contributing factor to the high volumes of child abandonment. Other factors include unemployment, gender-based violence (GBV) and poverty.
According to the Department of Social Development, among the reasons why parents, guardians or caregivers abandon their children are unplanned pregnancies, lack of family support, financial issues and fear of judgement from family members. Due to their desperate situations, women continue to abandon babies, regardless of the consequences, which include being criminally charged.
A woman with a child estimated to be a few days old once walked into a church service and sat next to a stranger. She fed her child and later asked the stranger next to her to hold her baby while she went to the restroom, but she never returned, and she was never found. Fortunately for the child, and through the intervention of Impilo Child Protection and Adoption Services she was adopted, is healthy, and receives love and care from a stable family.
The need to safeguard children who may be at risk of exploitation, neglect, abuse and abandonment is of paramount importance and this is why the often under-resourced, overlooked and disregarded child protection organisations exist — to play this pivotal role of child safeguarding.
The sporadic media coverage of abandoned children does not come close to demonstrating the burden that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) must carry in ensuring that these children grow up in safe and caring environments.
As Sue Krawitz, Founder and Director of Impilo says, “the Department of Social Development (DSD) in Gauteng is creating a crisis in care by indicating their plan to no longer fund child protection organisations and other NPOs. Initially, the funding was reduced by 60%, which had the impact of a few organisations closing their doors and leaving beneficiaries without services. After intensive pressure on the government, some organisations received funding, although at last year’s rate.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape child protection services sound alarm on government funding shortfalls
“A further consequence of the decision is that those organisations still operational have less funding available to carry out this important work, with more work to do in absorbing the notable increase of beneficiaries in need. This situation will only worsen in 2024, as further cuts will be implemented.”
It is reported that more than 10,000 children are annually abandoned in South Africa, and with the cancellation of funding from the Gauteng DSD, the chances of these babies being found alive or even healthy will decline because desperate mothers have been using child protection organisations’ services to ensure that their children have a better chance at life.
Notwithstanding the fact that baby abandonment is unlawful, children — whatever the conditions they are born into — have a right to live in a caring and nurturing environment so that they may have a chance to succeed in life and become active participants in society.
Section 28 of South Africa’s Constitution states that “every child has a right to a name and a nationality from the day they are born. To proper care by parents or a family member, or by someone else if the child must be taken away from the family. To enough food, shelter, basic healthcare and social services.”
As the dialogues continue around the provision of funding for the child protection sector, may there be an urgency to uphold the Constitution, and a recognition that these are children’s lives at stake, and also the future of this country. DM