Cape Town – The debate around “safe child abandonment” has been reignited after photos were released of a woman leaving a newborn baby outside a safe haven in Cape Town.
With stories of babies being dumped in terrible conditions regularly dominating the headlines, questions remain about how best to assist parents in trouble.
The woman, bundled in thick clothing and a beanie to ward off the morning chill on June 23, was captured on CCTV, leaving the baby, who was just a few days old, at the gate of Ubuntu House in Goodwood.
The facility is a registered child and youth care centre with a temporary care programme.
It is understood that the baby, who had been wrapped in a blanket, was picked up from the gate within a few minutes.
Video stills of the woman were included in a poster by Pink Ladies, a non-governmental organisation for missing children.
Western Cape police distributed the poster to media this week, along with a message that the Bellville Family Violence Children and Sexual Offences unit was looking for the woman or relatives of the baby.
It was not clear whether she was the baby’s mother.
Some Facebook users verbally attacked the Pink Ladies for including the images.
They demanded to know why the woman was being identified when she had not physically harmed the baby nor dumped the baby girl.
Leave the baby
The baby’s assigned social worker, Elzeth Conradie, was also taken by surprise upon being informed the photos had been distributed.
After following up with police, she was told it was protocol for them to release photos or the identity of people in these cases.
“As the organisation statutorily responsible for the child, we have concerns about this type of exposure of this mother,” she told News24.
“We are dealing with a confidential children’s court matter and we have a mother that is in need of help, but due to a fear of judgment or lack of knowledge, she made the choice to leave the baby at a place where she will be safeguarded”.
Conradie said the woman clearly knew the place and knew too that the child would be safe and taken care of.
Abandoning a baby, even safely, was still not ideal and would be seen as a criminal offence by police, she said.
Provincial police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana, explained to News24 that the woman had not followed “normal protocol”.
“When people drop off a baby, they must hand over the child. She left the baby at the gate…unattended”.
Sandy Immelman and fellow Neighbourhood Watch member Judith Cross set up a secure drop-off box in the wall of a clinic in 2014 in response to babies being dumped in Somerset West.
Called the ‘Helderberg Baby Saver’, it saved the life of a month-old baby boy just months after the initiative was set up.
South Africa had no safe abandonment law, Immelman said on Thursday.
Even her baby saver was technically illegal.
“Any minister who says you can hand your baby in at a hospital or police station is wrong. I don’t know anyone that would take the baby because they haven’t been told they are allowed to do that.”
She pointed out that the woman in the images could have been a grandmother or a stranger who decided to rescue a baby from alcoholic parents.
Pink Ladies founder Nana Rechner said she was obviously happy that the baby had been left at the Goodwood haven and not in the bush.
“The reason for including the images and information is like a death notice,” she explained.
“The children’s court has indicated to the social worker that before adoptions or fostering could begin, they have to wait 90 days.”
This waiting period was to allow police to trace the parents or relatives.
Rechner said many moms changed their mind afterwards and wanted their child back.
The sooner they had finality on the child’s position, the sooner they could get the little one adopted and into a safe home.
“They are trying to get the mother to help her.”
Conradie said the focus should be on awareness and encouraging parents to approach a welfare organisation or child or youth care centre for help.
As part of the National Adoption Coalition, they would continue to have community dialogues on safe abandonment procedures with different parties.