ABU DHABI // The search for a mother who abandoned a dead foetus in an aircraft lavatory has been stalled for five months by a bureaucratic delay in the Philippines.
The male foetus, which was at five to six months gestation, was found in the bin of the rear laatory on the Etihad Airways aircraft after it landed in Manila at 9.55pm on January 3.
But the investigation has barely progressed. Police in the Philippines are awaiting word from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) that oversees migrant workers, according to the Pasay City police chief, Sen Supt Napoleon Cuaton.
On January 12, he said there were 165 women among the 246 passengers on Etihad flight EY428 from Abu Dhabi, and police were working with the OWWA on a "process of elimination".
They sent the list of the Filipina passengers to the OWWA to verify where they had been deployed to work.
"Once we receive a reply from them, we will start making the proper representations with the Department of Foreign Affairs to request the social welfare attachés at the respective embassies to conduct a social investigation in the workplace," he said.
And so the case remains pending. "We can't afford to keep the case hanging," said Sen Supt Cuaton. "We must complete all the necessary investigations. If the woman had a miscarriage, she has to justify her actions. We will establish whether she will be held liable or not."
The foetus was found by a cleaner at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. There were no traces of blood on any of the plane's seats that would help police in their search - as they did in the case of a Filipina who gave birth on a Gulf Air flight to Manila last September.
In that case, the woman dumped the live baby into a rubbish bag that was unloaded from the aircraft. Police later identified her through her seat assignment as traces of blood were found on her seat.
Sen Supt Cuaton recalled another incident involving a Filipina migrant worker who gave birth in a toilet at Ninoy Aquino airport last November.
The woman, who hid her pregnancy from her family and authorities, said she was stressed after learning that she was already late for her flight to Taiwan. She was cleared of any liabilities afterit was established she had no intention of abandoning her baby girl.
Corazon Soliman, the social welfare secretary, was quoted in news reports last January as saying she was worried about the increasing number of Filipina workers abandoning their babies on aircraft. As a result, she decided to deploy two more social welfare attachés to the Middle East. The Philippine overseas labour offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai do not have social welfare attachés, according to Filipino labour officials.
There have not been any more incidents involving abandoned babies on a plane or at the Manila airport in recent months, according to Sen Supt Cuaton. "We can only speculate on the factors that drive these women to abandon their babies," he said. "If she's married, she would not want her husband in the Philippines to know about the pregnancy."
The abandonment of babies is an increasing problem in the Northern Emirates, with at least one child being found every few months.
A baby boy was found abandoned in the Azra area of Sharjah on June 3, two days after a baby girl was left nearby. Both babies are being cared for at the Al Qassimi Hospital.
* with additional reporting by Yasin Kakande