The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was shocked to receive a notice issued by the Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD), declaring that “the practice of ‘baby saver/ haven box’ structures and services are illegal” and that Gauteng NPO-run Child and Youth Care Centres must “immediately cease such practice and close such services within the Province.”
The IFP and various other opposition parties have long been engaging on the issue of unsafe abandonment of babies at a national Parliamentary level with the DSD. While there are no annual statistics available, in 2010, Child Welfare SA estimated that more than 3500 babies had been abandoned that year alone. If one considers the ever-increasing cost of living, unemployment and other social ills, it is easy to image this number would have grown substantially since then.
This heart-breaking phenomenon is not the practice of hardened criminals: often those abandoning babies are mere children themselves, or the pregnancies are the product of abuse or GBV. They often have nowhere to turn to and nobody to help them.
While we respect the rule of law and the provisions in the Children’s Act relating to parental responsibilities and child abandonment, let us not act in manner that will further harm vulnerable children.
Yes, we are in full agreement that all children have a right to a family name, identity, and cultural and religious practices but more importantly, according to section 11 in the Bill of Right of our Constitution, “Everyone has the right to life.”
There are times when rights intersect, and here again, we can look to our Constitution, which states in section 28(h)(2), “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
Life supersedes all other rights, for without life, all other rights are irrelevant.
The IFP is not supporting the normalisation of child abandonment or “promot[ing] the birth mother relinquishing her parental responsibility with no consequences” – we are advocating support for measures to save the lives of these vulnerable and defenceless children who have no one to speak for them.
This is why we support organisations that form part of the Baby Savers’ national coalition; a group of organisations that have been working for many years to end unsafe infant abandonment.
Child abandonment is happening now – despite it being illegal. Removing what is possibly the only chance of survival that these babies have, will not help to end unsafe child abandonment, it will only exacerbate the situation.
We are disappointed in the Gauteng DSD’s inability to appreciate the nuances involved when it comes to this very challenging issue – particularly when the NGOs working in this space have maintained open lines of communication with the Department, and their motivation is to save lives.
As the IFP, we will write to the Minister of Social Development and the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development to draw their attention once again to this crisis, in the hope that they will step in before more innocent lives are lost.
Ms Liezl Linda Van Der Merwe MP
IFP Spokesperson on Social Development
082 729 2510