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Xinyu Addae-Lee | Did we facilitate the pit latrine babies?

Published:Tuesday | March 10, 2020 | 12:17 AMXinyu Addae-Lee/Guest Columnist

On October 26, 2019, when an article came out about a baby boy found in a pit latrine in St Mary, the collective reaction of the country was shock and outrage. However, this reaction did not deter another mother from subjecting her newborn to the same fate five days later in St Ann. So, since shock and outrage do not help to protect these children and, dare I say, these mothers, has our failure to create safe spaces to have conversations about adoption facilitated these atrocities?

In my own shock and outrage, I found myself asking the following questions:

- Why did these mothers not seek to give these children up for adoption?

- Were they aware that was an option open to them?

- If they were aware, did they know who to ask about it?

- And ultimately, what do we need to do to prevent this from happening again?

While trying to answer these questions, I found a very insightful article published in The Observer on October 19, 2015, titled ‘I want to give my child up for adoption’. It was in the form of a question posed to attorney-at-law Mrs Macaulay by a young lady, who was in her early 20s and was pregnant. However, because she was a full-time student and employee, she indicated it was not an ideal time for her to become a parent. She went on to indicate that in trying to research this on her own, she only came across information for persons wishing to adopt.

Mrs Macaulay’s response indicated the following take-home points I wish to discuss:

- “The information provided by officialdom in Jamaica is for those who wish to adopt?”

- “The burden of informing a parent of the possibility of adoption is by and large borne by non-government organisations (NGOs), faith-based homes and/or associations, and members of the medical and social service professions”

- If you go through the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) – previously known as the Child Development Agency (CDA) – you will not know or meet the person or persons who would adopt the child.

The first point is a confirmation of what the young lady indicated and what I can confirm is the current situation in 2020. In my research, there was simply no information out there to assist persons wishing to give their child up for adoption. I would have to say this seems like an intentional state of affairs in our country.

Hiding information

I say this because of the way I was handled when I called the CPFSA to find out about this. First, I was told that they don’t really give out that sort of information, and when I insisted that this is public knowledge, I was given some information after being told that adoption is a “last resort”.

Why are we hiding this information from persons who may be considering giving up their child for adoption? Is it logical to believe that if this information was readily available, persons who wanted to keep their child would now choose to give up their child for adoption? That is equivalent to saying that asking a person if they have considered suicide would encourage them to consider it as an option, which has been proven to be a myth.

Providing information is not the same as promoting or making the choice for the person. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these atrocities and hide behind blanket statements like “adoption is a last resort” or “the best place for the child is with their genetic parents.” It is simply not true, and should not be used as an excuse to make the process of giving up a baby for adoption inaccessible, mysterious and discouraging.

To the second point, as a medical doctor, it was interesting to learn that a part of our role as healthcare providers is to provide this kind of guidance to persons who wish to give their child up for adoption. Truth be told, other than directing the individual to the relevant agency, I would not have been able to provide them any real guidance.

Wondering if I was alone, I decided to ask the doctors I know a simple question: “If a patient indicated the desire to give their child up for adoption, would you be able to guide them?”

Out of 26 doctors I asked, 17 said “No”; seven indicated they would refer the person for counselling and/or CDA; and two could provide adequate guidance to the patient about private adoption. As you can see, the majority of medical doctors (I know) really have never been informed about the process and it makes me wonder, if we are not given the information, where are we expected to get this information?

As I said before, when I called to find out, the information was not readily provided; and when I identified myself as a medical doctor, I still sensed that the agent was being guarded about the information she provided to me. So, if the country is relying on us then, first, perhaps, we should be made aware of our role and, second, we will need to be educated about the process and what we are expected to do when faced with such a patient.

UNACCEPTABLE PRACTICES

As for the third point, this was confirmed by the information I received from the CPFSA. I was informed that the child is taken away from the parents at birth and the parents have no further contact with the child. They are only contacted to sign the consent for adoption when the adoptive parent(s) is identified. This situation assumes that the birth parents don’t care about the well-being of the child and who raises that child, which is not always the case.

We must acknowledge that adoption becomes an option in many circumstances, including financial constraints, health concerns, housing issues, mental and emotional issues, to name a few. In those circumstances, the birth parents will most likely be interested in what happens to their child and would like to have the peace of mind that their child will be placed in a happy home and be provided with a life that they were not able to provide at the time. This can only be facilitated through private adoption, which in itself is also a mystery.

As far as my limited knowledge provides, I am not aware of any agency or facility that would be able to readily pair a person wishing to give up their child for adoption with person wishing to adopt. It is therefore really only the luck of the patient as to whether they speak to the right person about private adoption or they are able to identify someone themselves. This is hardly acceptable.

Persons who have been brave enough to admit that they are unable to raise and care for their child, for whatever reason, should be provided with the information they need about the possible alternatives.

We have a responsibility to the child, and to the parents, to demystify the option of adoption and facilitate it in an informed and regulated way. We are hiding this information to our own detriment and until we recognise this, we are facilitating an atmosphere where mothers discard their babies in pit latrines and other places.

Dr Xinyu Addae-Lee is a medical doctor and attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.