A front page story of a tragic case of “baby-dumping” – the abandonment of newborn babies often in isolated locations – marked a sad start to the new year in Namibia.
Whilst reporting of such heart-breaking cases appears to be on the increase in local papers, no one can provide precise figures as neither infanticide or baby-dumping are categorised as separate crimes here and are usually recorded as charges of concealment of birth, abandonment, culpable homicide or murder.
Despite that, local police confirm that they handle around 19 cases of concealment of birth alone each year, often involving very young mothers. Activists warn that many more cases are likely to have gone unreported.
Namibia’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare highlighted the problem in its Plan of Action on Gender-based Violence, launched in September 2012, and included the problem in a zero-tolerance media campaign.
In the meantime, local NGO, the Legal Assistance Centre, is one of a number of civil society organisations working alongside the Ministry to address the matter.
The country’s forthcoming Child Care and Protection Bill (currently with the legal drafters prior to its review in the Namibian Parliament) is also set to provide desperate young mothers with practical options for finding a safe place for their unwanted infants, including legally permitting them to be left in certain designated places, such as a hospital or police station.
In 2008, the Centre published a research report on the topic and followed this up with a comic entitled What to do if you are pregnant and do not want the baby, which it distributed nationwide. It was also one of the partners who undertook an extensive survey to determine why the Namibian public thought baby-dumping occurred and to encourage debate on what could be done about the problem.
The most common reasons given were the baby’s father denying paternity, the mother being a student, and the mother not knowing about options such as foster care, adoption and institutional care. The most common proposed solution was the need to provide more information to the public on such options.
In response to this, the British High Commission in Windhoek is pleased to be able to support a new social media initiative being launched by the Legal Assistance Centre which makes information about alternative options available to parents via a series of striking campaign posters.
The LAC is asking members of the public to show their support for the prevention of baby-dumping campaign by providing photographs of their babies to feature on the posters and then circulating the posters to friends and family.
Through this person-to-person communication mechanism, the LAC hopes to reach a wider range of people than usual. The LAC is also engaging with print, radio and television media to ensure extensive coverage of the issue and will be printing some of the posters for nationwide distribution.
This is a really exciting and innovative campaign – and I would be interested to hear your feedback on the initial posters as featured in this blog and to get your wider ideas on other ways to tackle this heartbreaking issue.