x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Solution needed to baby abandonment

Children found abandoned are cared for and loved, but there the cause of the problem needs to be tackled.

News that a baby has been discovered in a cardboard box in Sharjah on the weekend was heartbreaking. As The National reported yesterday, police have taken the newborn boy, who was found about noon on Friday near a restaurant in the Halwan district, to Al Qassimi Hospital. While the baby is now in safe hands, it is distressing to consider the circumstances under which a mother would abandon her own child.

The baby is one of dozens who are abandoned in the UAE each year, often in public places such as street corners or mosques. Within the space of one week last November, a two-day-old girl was found in a garden in Sharjah’s Al Mansoura district, and another baby girl was discovered, alive, inside a bag in a rubbish bin in Ras Al Khaimah. They are among the lucky ones who were rescued by passersby or neighbours and were handed over to the authorities. Too often, though, babies are killed and dumped, or die after being exposed to the elements. Last year, a woman was arrested in Umm Al Quwain after trying to flush a baby down a toilet.

The law is equipped to deal with the aftermath of these events, thanks to federal legislation enacted in 2012 to replace a patchwork of local laws. When a child is found, the police, health authorities and other agencies work together to ensure the child’s welfare. While Sharia law prevents adoption by Muslims, there are ways to allow these children to grow up in loving foster homes with families, or in a government home. In many cases, the child ends up better off than may have been the case with the parent who abandoned him or her. However, the child will always live with the stigma of being different and an unquenchable longing to know about his or her birth parents and their culture.

The challenge is to find a mechanism to stem the incidence of child abandonment by desperate women who fear legal reprisal if they are known to have given birth outside of wedlock. While the law prescribes punishment, there must be ways to mitigate its implementation in the interests of the mother and child. Moreover, women who have little education and no family in the UAE should have access to non-judgemental advice in their own language, as well as guidance that could prevent the situation arising in the first place. In a society that cherishes families, we should all be looking at ways of extending the hand of support to those in need.