Orphanages struggle to accommodate the growing number of babies
Increase in number of infants abandoned by expatriate parents in Oman
It was the dead of night when Nandita Samyabhai heard an infant's cry outside the front door of her two-bedroom flat. She swept the bundle into her arms and knew immediately that she was holding the abandoned child of an expatriate couple.
In 2014 Ms Samyabhai conducted a talk on the unwanted pregnancies of foreign workers residing in Oman.
"I was alarmed by reports in the Indian communities in Oman about young girls having unwanted pregnancies", Ms Samyabhai, 43, an Indian national and a medical practitioner based in Muscat, told The National.
"I did this talk in an Indian school to find out the reasons behind it. But I also told them they could come to me if these young girls are in trouble. I did not know that part of this service I offered was for them to drop their unwanted babies on my doorstep,” she said.
Ms Samyabhai has also arranged for local orphanages to take in these babies.
“But I am not the only expatriate who is involved in this kind of Good Samaritan role. There are others in the same position as I am."
The number of abandoned expatriate babies has increased by six per cent over the last year, according to the ministry of social development, leaving Oman's orphanages overstretched.
Between 2015 and last year the overall number of infants - those born to Omanis as well as foreigners - abandoned in hospitals or in orphanages in the Sultanate rose by 11 per cent, reaching 54. Of those, 29 were babies born to non-Omanis. No information is available on the nationalities of the others.
Psychologist Ranjeeta Pyarlal said she has also been surprised by abandoned babies on her doorstep in the early hours of the morning.
“I do free home counselling to troubled young expatriate women in Oman. It has made my house a target for unwanted babies. They just drop them on my doorstep. I think it's because I am close to most of these young women I counselled and they feel connected with me. Why else could they drop their babies to my house?” said 36-year-old Ms Pyarlal.
Over the course of this year, Ms Pyarlal and Ms Samyabhai each found two babies on their doorsteps, while last year they found five between them.
The total number of children who have been fostered is unknown but there are an estimated 3,500 in orphanages across the country, according to the Ministry of Social Development.
“We cannot get an accurate number of the children born to expatriate mothers who are now being raised in the orphanages because it is not always clear cut whose baby it is when they are dropped off somewhere. The number we have for the babies of expatriates only come from other expatriates who bring them in after being abandoned in their homes. That’s the only way to know,” Asia Al Hallabi, a social worker, told The National.
According to Ms Samyabhaim most babies are abandoned by single mothers who come under family pressure, some of them are as young as 15.
“Most of them are forced to abort them before birth but some, for religious reasons, wait until they deliver them then they drop the babies at some place where they can be seen,” Ms Samyabhai said.
Individual orphanages have their own privacy policies about whether to release information to the public about abandoned babies. “You won’t get any information from the orphanages about the background of the babies, although they welcome foster parents to adopt them,” Ms Hallabi said.
To encourage foster families to take in orphans, the government pays a monthly allowance of 100 rials (Dh950) per child. All orphans get Omani citizenship regardless of their mothers’ nationalities. They also get free scholarships when they finish secondary school and automatic jobs when they graduate. The perks also include free land of about 600 square metres when they reach 25 and a low interest mortgage to build their homes.