Wednesday September 19, 2012
It was shame that killed the baby
THE STAR SAYS
SHE hid her pregnancy for many agonising months. But when she finally gave birth, her “secret” unravelled in the most horrifying way when she flung her newborn out of the window of her third floor apartment.
On the surface, the infant was killed by her 20-year-old unwed mother. But look deeper and it is actually shame that took away that little baby’s life.
Because this almost unimaginable act which took place on Sunday in the Desa Mentari Apartments in Petaling Jaya is an indictment of how our society treats unmarried mothers and babies born out of wedlock.
The 20-year-old, a factory worker, is not the first mother to kill her child in such a horrifying way. Last October, a 19-year-old restaurant trainee also threw her baby out of her second floor apartment in Selayang. That baby too was alive when he was thrown out. Other women have resorted to trying to flush their infants down toilets, throwing them into dumpsters or simply abandoning them.
Each time it happens, we start our litany on declining morals, lack of religious knowledge and negligent parents.
Then, we follow up with a chorus on the need for spiritual guidance, sex education and vigilance. We even set up a few baby hatches for mothers to leave their unwanted offspring.
If the “soft” approach didn’t work, the authorities can threaten to charge these young mothers with murder, and judges can mete out heavy deterrent punishments.
We have done this song and dance repeatedly, but the same scenes keep playing – a girl hides her pregnancy, gives birth alone and the baby is abandoned or dies. The child is either discovered mercifully alive or tragically dead and then the ensuing uproar.
In the last five years, more than 400 cases of abandoned babies have been reported and the mothers are almost always teenage girls.
We can be outraged all we want, and focus our anger at these young women.
But ultimately, it is we who have failed these girls.
These baby-dumping cases are direct indictments of our failure to recognise and address our blinkered approach to young people’s sexuality. We teach and preach to our children that they should abstain from premarital sex, and expect them to obey blindly. Then, we clam up and do not talk about sex to them, as though acknowledging its existence would be some form of consent for them to engage in sex.
It has only created an unforgiving environment where pregnant girls would not seek help for fear of bringing shame to their families, and risk the community’s condemnation.
We do this vigorously, even as our children are inundated with sexually-charged messages through the media and Internet, and even with so much evidence of young people being sexually active.
We offer them no strategy other than abstinence. We terrorise our children – especially girls – into being ashamed of their bodies and sexuality.
It is a scenario that creates a veil of ignorance, and the result are babies born out of unwanted pregnancies.
Sure, we can continue to be in denial and think that engaging in premarital sex is a moral issue. But young people being sexually active really is a public health matter that requires pragmatic policies.
The reality is our young do not have easy access to reproductive health information and services; some of these young mothers didn’t even know they were pregnant. There are also few facilities and services for them to learn about and prevent unwanted pregnancies, and protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases.
But beyond all that, we need to stop the condemnation and do what is right by our children. We need to end the shame, remove the stigma and instead offer compassion and support when they need it most.