The African child suffers immense challenges: if it is not being abandoned by the roadside by their parents because of various reasons, it’s the risk of being aborted by their mothers because the parent has no option of giving up the child for adoption or to organizations that can support such a child.
While abortion could be an option for such desperate mothers, in Africa, women are not freely allowed to seek abortion as it is deemed as a sinful act and it is also illegal in some countries. Apart from Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia which permits abortion without restriction as to the reason but with gestational limits and Zambia, which only allows it on socioeconomic grounds, most countries have a law against abortion.
Yet, there could be a better option for mothers and parents in Africa other than abortion or following up on the bureaucratic system to give up a child for adoption.
Learning from Indiana’s ‘Safe Haven Baby Box’
In a bid to save children, the State of Indiana has installed Safe Haven Baby Boxes to allow mothers to drop off unwanted newborns anonymously, instead of dumping babies in unsafe areas which sometimes result to their deaths.
Safe haven laws are operational in all 50 states in the US and allows unharmed newborns to be surrendered without fear of prosecution. The Indiana’s law gives parents the option to drop off newborns at police stations, fire stations, and hospitals.
Maybe this is what African countries need to adopt instead of fighting to make abortion legal or illegal. Then mothers who are at risk of death due to pregnancy can be given the option to choose medical abortion to save their lives.
Clerics can thus be left with the work of preaching and teaching people in the ways of the Lord, instead of engaging in the politics of passing or opposing abortion laws in their countries like in Malawi. The recent debate on whether Malawi should legalize abortion has received support and disapproval in equal measures. Some clerics believe abortion could save women from procuring unsafe abortions, on one hand, and promote a culture of death, as viewed by Catholic bishops, on the other.
Cases of abandoned children are common in Africa with many children left on the streets, dump sites while others are thrown away in pit latrines by desperate parents.
In Khartoum (Sudan) the situation is dire. Up to 5 children are abandoned every day by their parents, according to reports. This puts a lot of pressure on the already strained homes that currently provide accommodation for these children. It is estimated that more than 10 percent of African children die before they reach the age of 5 years. The situation gets even worse particularly for abandoned children who are deprived of family care.
In some countries like Nigeria, children are abandoned by their parents who accuse the children of being 'witches'.
Earlier in the year (February), a two-year-old boy accused of being a witch was rescued by a Danish aid worker who found him in Uyo, South East Nigeria. He had been left on the streets for months. The tiny-emaciated boy was struggling to survive and according to the rescuers, he had little time left.
The aid worker, Anja Ringgren Lovén said “thousands of children are being accused of being witches, and we've both seen the torture of children, dead children, and frightened children," She was quoted by CNN.
How the Safe Haven Box works
The installed boxes are padded, and climate controlled to ensure the total safety of the newborn babies.
The boxes are also furnished with a security system that notifies emergency personnel when a baby is dropped off. According to WLSL10, emergency responders can get to the child within minutes.
There are those who criticize the baby boxes arguing that it makes it easier for parents to surrender a child without exploring other options and can deprive mothers of needed medical care.
Monica Kelsey, a volunteer with the Woodburn Volunteer Fire Department, where the first baby box was dedicated, and an abandoned child herself, said it is not a crime for parents to want to give up their newborn.
“This is not criminal,” Kelsey said. “This is legal. We don’t want to push women away.”
The Woodburn baby box was installed April 19, coinciding with the day which Kelsey says is when her birth mother abandoned her at a hospital when she was just hours old.
According to Kelsey, who has been advocating for baby boxes in Indiana for several years, the Knights of Columbus of Indiana will pay for the first 100 baby boxes, which cost $1,500 to $2,000 each.
Image credit: Chad Ryan/The Journal Gazette via AP