SCARED and clueless pregnant girls as young as 13 have turned up at baby hatch centres, desperate for answers on how to deal with the unborn child they are carrying.
OrphanCARE Foundation, an organisation that has been handling baby hatch centres in Johor Baru, Sungai Petani and Petaling Jaya since 2009, revealed that there have been 14 cases of pregnant teenage girls coming forward to seek help, and the foundation found this alarming.
Project coordinator Syarhah Md Tahir said the teenagers were “clueless” on what they needed to do after delivering their baby.
“We are here to listen, direct and guide them on the choices they have, and it is up to them and their family to decide.
“On the recent case of the 13-year-old girl for instance, after counselling, her family decided to look after the baby,” she told the New Straits Times.
Syarhah listed two main factors that caused these teenagers to go “astray”.
“The main reason is because they are not exposed to sex education.
“When there’s no sex education, teenagers can be clueless on the impact of their actions, which they learn from the Internet.”
She said parents who do not monitor their children’s activities on the Internet and their smartphones put the kids at risk.
“Some teenagers watch porn and reenact the acts with their friends.
“This is why sex education is important, because if they are equipped with information, they will know the consequences of their actions.”
She said many of them did not know the consequences of having sex and the symptoms of pregnancy.
“Some even say they suffer from irregular periods and have no idea they are pregnant for quite a while.”
Syarhah urged parents to not wash their hands of the matter.
They must monitor their children’s activities on the Internet.
“Parental guidance is important. Parents need to know how to approach their children to talk about sex education.
“If they think it is hard, attend classes on parenting where they can learn how to deal with children.”
In Johor, the situation is similar. Many who approached the foundation for consultation were students and some were dropouts.
Johor Baru OrphanCARE Foundation branch manager Tan Kee Lin said some students were forced to drop out of school because of their pregnancy.
In some cases, their parents ask the school for temporary leave for the student.
“While some give up the baby due to financial constraints, especially factory workers who earn a low income, most give the baby up because they are not able to face other people,” Tan said.
He said some women were forced to give up their babies as they were illegitimate.
“They got married and within a month, the woman is pregnant.
“Unable to get family acceptance and support, they give up the child.”
He said the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock was often a concern of the parents who sought help from OrphanCARE.
“Parents will tell us they want things to be kept quiet as the child was unmarried.
“In such cases, the mothers have the option to stay at the OrphanCARE hostel until their delivery.”
He said OrphanCARE believed that biological parents were the best people to look after a child, and with this in mind, the centre would talk to the parents if they were willing to receive counselling.
“So far, our centres recorded 99 cases where we successfully persuaded the mother against giving up the child.”
Tan said if the baby had to be given up, leaving the infant at a baby hatch was the best option because it increased the baby’s chances of survival.
Newborns left outside someone’s house or in a rubbish bin only have a 40 per cent survival rate.
“More importantly, it is an offence to dump babies. If they leave it in the hatch, it is not an offence, and they can choose not to reveal their identity.
“We give them 10 seconds to leave once they place the baby in the cot in the centre.
“That’s the amount of time before the alarm goes off to notify staff that a baby has been placed there.”
However, the mother cannot change her mind once the door to the hatch closes.
“We are strict about this because we do not want anyone to simply come and claim the child.”
Tan said adoption was a lengthy and complex process involving interviews and extensive background checks on would-be parents.
Prospective parents must answer a 30-page questionnaire before beginning the lengthy processes.
“Another hurdle is paying for the baby’s expenses.
“We are not selling the baby, but the biological mother may have incurred hospital bills or milk powder costs during the delivery of the child.
“It is only right that the adoptive parents settle the bills or some of them,” Tan said.
Baby hatches have evolved over the years as a place for pregnant women to seek consultation as they consider their options.
Set up as a place for women to “hand over” their newborn, instead of abandoning them, facilities with such hatches have helped more people adopt babies.
Since its inception, OrphanCARE has received 35 babies through hatches in three centres.
There is a big demand for unwanted babies, with 3,092 applications from childless couples nationwide, of which 802 have been interviewed by OrphanCARE.
Police statistics showed that about 100 babies were abandoned in the country every year.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry had said 104 babies were abandoned in 2015, with 61 of them found dead and only 43 survived.
Statistics obtained by OrphanCARE revealed that between 2009 and this year, 167 babies had been adopted nationwide.
Last year, 23 babies were adopted, and since January, 14 found new families.
OrphanCARE signed a memorandum of understanding with private healthcare provider KPJ Healthcare Bhd to run baby hatches.
The foundation provides counselling and training for prospective adoptive parents and facilitates the adoption process.