Empower congratulates the Selangor state government for the setting up of ‘Rumah Perhentian Sementara’ in an effort to protect and care for abandoned babies. As the number of abandoned babies and baby-dumping cases are increasingly being reported, this initiative is seen as another positive move taken in order to address the issue.
However, as much attention is given to protecting and caring for these unfortunate infants, the Selangor state government and other states should also focus on supporting the mothers most of whom happen to be teenage single and unwed mothers.
We believe that, be it through Rumah Perhentian Sementara or other safe houses, there is an urgent need to provide more services centres for these traumatised mothers, which are non- judgemental, to help them make informed decisions. Counseling and legal services should also be made available to help them understand other options pertaining to their newborns.
Should the mother choose to keep the baby, she must be informed of where she can seek help in order that both mother and child have access to food and security. If the baby is given into foster care or for adoption, the mother must be advised of her legal rights.
Adolescent mothers are less likely to stimulate their infant through affectionate behaviours such as touch, smiling and verbal communication, or be sensitive and accepting towards the baby’s needs. Those who had more social support were less likely to show anger or remorse toward the child.
One study showed that the correlation between earlier childbearing and failure to complete high school reduces career opportunities for many young women and as such, avenues for education should be made available to them to complete their formal education. [Pregnancy, Poverty, School and Employment at Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting].
Empower notes with deep regret that other quarters have not been able to emphatise with the women’s plight and instead have suggested actions to ostracise the women since they do not appear to fall within society’s expectations of what a woman should be.
These unfortunate actions include special schools to only educate women who throw away babies; harsher punishment; and even the death penalty. These are not useful and in fact further stigmatises the women as being ‘loose’; ‘lack morals’; need to be disciplined on their sexual behaviours and in short, need to be knocked into shape as they do not appear to fall within society’s expectation of what a woman should be.
On the other hand, very little discussions have focused on the males who are also part of the problem, except for meeting out death penalty that unfortunately violates human rights principles. These men need to have counseling and made to be more aware of their responsibilities and be accountable for their actions.
Empower recommends that all state governments take the initiative to:
1. develop more centers for mothers and babies that will make women feel safe and secure to seek help and support
2. develop counseling for the young fathers to understand responsibility, accountability and to treat women with respect and as equals
3. advocate for the implementation of a comprehensive sex education and for the Ministry of Education to conduct full training for all teachers on sex education that promotes safety, security and respectful social relationships.
This is a long term solution which will educate the young to make responsible decisions and to be accountable for the consequences of their relationships, and to take preventive measures to protect themselves against sexual violence.
The writer is programme officer, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower).