Abandoned Babies

“Over a single week in May, the corpses of eight infants were pulled from the river’s rubbish-choked waters.”

“A rubbish sorter reckons he alone finds 15 dead infants a year on the dump where he plies his trade.”

“A government midwife has a series of pictures on her mobile phone of dead babies found on such dumps. She points to one, a tiny girl hunched in the foetal position. Residents told her the baby had died after being fed Coca-Cola by her mother, a teeth-rotting drink for adults but poison for a new-born.”

“Dozens of babies are rescued from pit latrines or in forests every year, county officials say, usually because people have heard them wailing.”

These are horrific stories.  But unwanted pregnancy among young girls in Kenya is rife. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, a quarter of women have given birth by age 18 and almost half by age 20.  More recent statistics show that 40% of girls between 15 and 19 in poor communities become pregnant, with many even younger, barely teenagers.

Research by Plan International in 2019 found that:

  • 98% of pregnant girls were not in school.
  • 59% of the pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 years were unintended.
  • 45% of all severe abortion complications were reported among adolescent girls.

Pregnancy is often through defilement and rape.  Some see it as the only way for them to cover basic needs, such as food and shelter.  Some see it as a way out of poverty.  The ugly truth, however, is that the men who get them pregnant are likely to leave as soon as the girl is pregnant, leaving the girls with few options – abortion, keeping the baby or abandoning it.

Abortion, particularly illegal abortion, is life-threatening.  Keeping the baby can resign the girl to a continued life of poverty.  Given the lack of sexual health education and lack of contraception, further pregnancies are very likely.  Abandoning the baby is sometimes the least bad option.

Babies are abandoned in many places.  As in the quote above, they can be abandoned and left to die.  The lucky ones are abandoned where they are likely to be found, at hospitals, police stations, churches, and even public toilets.

The responsibility for giving the babies the care they need falls to the Children’s Office.  Under the Kenyan Children Act, there is a formal process that requires the Courts to decide what happens to the baby.  This is usually their placement in a Charitable Children’s Institute (or similar), where they can be nursed back to health.  Placement at a CCI is for up to three years.

There remain, however, organisations that take in, or even steal, babies outside of this process, to be sold for as little as a few hundred pounds.  They will often display them to extort donations from unsuspecting tourists and naive donors.

A major role of the social workers at the CCI is to find the best outcome for each baby.  If the mother can be traced, they will work with her to see if she can take the baby back and care for them.  Similarly, if the community are willing to take the baby on.  If appropriate, the social worker will work with a registered adoption agency to find a loving family to adopt or foster.

As well as caring for abandoned babies, the Kenya authorities are looking to prevent the problems that lead to it.  Better education, including better sexual education.  Access to contraception. Access to safe, legal abortions.

By working with approved CCIs the Kenyan Government is aiming to reduce unwanted pregnancies, through support, counselling and education, and to ensure that any babies who are abandoned are given the best possible chance of a future.

Until those measures take effect, abandoned babies will continue to be a major issue in Kenya, and organisations that are willing and able to care for them and give them a better life are much needed.


Sources:  Daily Telegraph, United Nations, Save the Children, Kenyan Government, Kujali Children’s Centre, Plan International, Kenya Children Centres

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