Babies and the law

The general consensus surrounding Natacha’s disappearance is that “at least” she left her baby in a safe place, where she will most likely be taken care of.

The Bulletin Newspaper

Abandonment, neglect and concealment are some of the terms which have come to be associated with babies in the past month, and more commonly than we’d like to admit.
In Secunda, Trichardt and Leandra, cases involving the death and/or abandonment of infants neatly follow each other in single file, which begs the question: why?
On the quiet Tuesday night of April 24, three weeks after giving birth, Natacha Zducula left Evander Hospital without her healthy baby girl. Evander Police are now on the search for Natacha, but what is of more concern is what will happen to her baby and many other abandoned infants like her.
The general consensus surrounding Natacha’s disappearance is that “at least” she left her baby in a safe place, where she will most likely be taken care of. This, of course, is in comparison with the infant and fetus dumping that has swept over the TEKS area recently. In the past two months alone, the sad remains of babies have been found at a water treatment plant in Trichardt, a ditch in eMbalenhle, a sewage-filled river in Leandra, and a rubbish bin in Secunda.
In South Africa, anonymous child abandonment has been criminalised, leaving mothers who are unable to take care of their children with minimal options for their welfare. In terms of the law, ‘baby safes’ are also illegal, but given the increase of abandonment, more of them are being opened all over the country.
A baby safe is a metal box built into the outside wall of a safe house that has doors on either side of the wall. A person who does not want to – or cannot – keep their baby can come to the outer door of the safe house at any time, open the door to the safe and place their unwanted baby inside.
The box is fitted with a small mattress for the baby’s comfort. When the outer door is closed, it locks, preventing anyone else outside taking the baby. The weight of the baby triggers a censor which alerts the home’s staff via three programmed cellphone numbers. By opening the inner door, the baby would be fetched within three minutes and taken in for care. The mother dropping off her baby does not have to face anyone.
The frequent use of these baby boxes indicates that there is a need for a safe place to leave a baby that cannot be taken care of, but due to the law and a lack of safe spaces in which to anonymously leave children, ‘baby dumping’ remains prevalent.
For now, Natacha’s baby girl will remain in the care of Evander Hospital. Unfortunately, many abandoned children are believed to not even make it into the formal child protection system, as they are absorbed into communities through ‘informal adoption’, raising concerns around issues such as child trafficking. Lieutenant Colonel Jenny Albert expressed concern for the mother, too. “This is a vulnerable woman who needs to be located as soon as possible so she can be reunited with her baby girl,” she said. – Rori Rathebe


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