JANUARY 23 — An average of 100 babies are dumped nationwide in Malaysia every year with more than half of them found dead according to Police statistics.
The media quoted the Minister of Women, Family and Community development in January 2016 that out of the 104 babies dumped in 2015, 61 were found dead and only 43 alive.
In 2014, 75 were found dead and only 28 alive and in 2013, 58 were found dead and only 32 alive.
Another police statistics from the earlier years had shown 407 babies were dumped nationwide from 2005 to 2010 averaging about 80 per year with Selangor, Johor and Sabah being the 3 states with the highest cases recorded.
The recorded cases must be the tip of the iceberg with every case found and recorded, many may be buried or thrown into the abyss and never be found.
What is Malaysia’s solution to these human tragedies and acts of desperation by girls and women who had to resort to such unthinkable answer to their seemingly hopeless situation that they are entangled in?
Most suggestions and solutions are reactive to headlines report of babies that are thrown alive from high rise buildings or sensational cases that cause public furore.
Many are temporary solutions or solutions that are good but indeed lacking the political will and public support to implement once the furore fizzles down.
Among the solutions implemented are Sex Education in schools. They take the form of various programmes such as the National Policy and Plan of Action on Reproductive Health and Social Education introduced in 2009, The Reproductive and Social Health Programme ( Pekerti) introduced in 2012 and a Training for Trainers course in September 2014,
They were implemented on various schools at various levels but by and large the programmes were limited in numbers lacking the nationwide wide impact and teachings of pregnancy prevention methods seems conspicuously absent.
The lack of impact of such lukewarm programmes are evidenced by Local data about teenage sexual behaviour and knowledge.
The Malaysian Population and Family survey 2014 showed that many teenagers in the country are still clueless about reproductive health.
From the same survey, it showed that 42,9 per cent admitted they had been exposed to obscene material and 9,9 per cent admit to had sexual intercourse
From the “ Risk factor and Protection for Youth sexual and reproductive health study 2013” done in Sabah and Sarawak, it was found that the minimum age for first time sex among students in Sarawak was 15,3 years.
Similarly in a study of secondary school students in Negeri Sembilan the mean age at first sexual intercourse for male students was 14.9 years old.
Another local study in the Klang Valley reported that among those adolescent who had experienced premarital sexual intercourse, 72 per cent of them did not use any contraception at first intercourse.
Malaysia’s first baby Hatch was launched in 2010 by OrphanCare and subsequently various baby hatch are set up in other parts of the country.
The aims of baby hatch is to offer a place whereby when babies are abandoned, they wouldn’t be dumped in unsafe place and thus saving babies’s lives.
It was reported by the end of 2015, 207 babies were saved by the Baby Hatch programme, however, the number of babies dumped yearly up to 2015 had not shown a corresponding reduction.
By and large they represent a harm reduction programme of sorts and are met with limited success due to their end of line solution, distance from tackling the root cause of the problem.
Among the other solutions proposed were Criminalising baby dumping and especially Harsher punishments for the perpetrators including the male partners.
This call typically comes after yet another sensational case of baby dumping is published by the media and typically made by politicians.
On the same note, police have proposed to set up DNA data bank to trace the perpetrators.
Other calls by NGO’s include reinforcing Religious education & character building, “ Stop Valentine or New Year Day celebrations” and increase frequency of monitoring of illicit sexual activities in hotels or dormitories.
Boarding school for pregnant teenagers were also set up in Malacca as one of the way to reduce baby dumping.
All these proposals or “ solutions” were again reactive to the problem and does little to solve the real problem at hand or the multifactorial cause of why Baby dumping occurs.
What needs to be accepted?
For real tangible change to occur in tackling the problem , we must accept & acknowledge a few facts and body of evidence regarding what method works.
1) Behind every baby being dumped is an Unplanned pregnancy.
2) Sexual activity among the young and adolescent will occur increasingly as they transition through the different age groups to adulthood.
3) Criminalising what is the tragic end result of natural human biology would not stop nature in its track
4) Knowledge and access to Contraceptives and Pregnancy prevention methods have never been shown to increase sexual activity in the young.
5) The Public, Parents , Teachers , NGO’s and Citizens must take ownership of the problems and push for real change rather than leaving it all to the government or authorities.
What needs to be done?
1) We need to implement age appropriate Comprehensive Sexuality Education ( CSE) in all schools nationwide without further delay. CSE includes imparting critical knowledge about human reproduction and pregnancy prevention methods.
2) Contraceptive access must be made available for those who are already sexually active and it’s usage have been shown convincingly to decrease unintended pregnancies.
3) Cultural taboos about single motherhood need to be soften and in its place greater acceptance and support of single mothers or teenagers enhanced.
4) Anonymous childbirth system supported by a comprehensive set of policies and services of handling babies that may potentially be abandoned should be enacted. This is in line with the international charter of child rights and present an opportunity for child and mother to meet later in life
5) Amendments to the laws and regulations that will facilitate what are proposed.
We could continue to choose to turn a blind eye to the tragedies, offer ad hoc, half hearted, politically and culturally acceptable “ solutions” or for once, take the bold resolve as a Nation to face the facts and offer real life changing solutions that will make a better world for our next generation.
* Dr John Teo is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Menara.my.