Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Our disposable children

Published:Monday | March 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The other day I witnessed a toddler, clad only in a nappy, wandering precariously close to the edge of a sidewalk along Red Hills Road. He was crying and being totally ignored by two groups of women some metres away. None could save him if he somehow fell off the edge and into the traffic. From all indications, he was obviously a disposable child.

Then, there are those roaming groups of child mendicants and windshield washers. Certainly, many of them will eventually be recruited by criminal elements as soon as they become teenagers and are old enough to tote guns. And, there are those children who are left to cruise their neighbourhoods and streets as they please, when they please. All these are disposable children and, although we see them almost everyday, only on very rare occasions are the parents brought to book for child neglect or abuse.

Although all terminations of pregnancies (abortions) remain illegal (even if the mother's physical and mental health are seriously endangered) - women continue having them done for a variety of reasons. Public debate on the issue resurfaces occasionally, but our society has been disingenuous on the matter.

We often belittle, berate, ostracise and even penalise mothers who become pregnant because of socio-economic pressure, a bad decision, a careless act, failed contraception or just plain bad luck. Consequently, when pregnancies occur at inopportune or inconvenient times, rather than face economic hardship, shame, scorn and/or a derailment of their long-term plans, many women will risk their health and life in order to terminate them.

Financially strapped women commonly terminate pregnancies if they do not feel that the babies' fathers or family members will assist in raising the child. In other words, most women would choose to keep their pregnancies if they were confident of some sort of help from someone or from somewhere.

Lesser of two evils

I want to state categorically that, generally, I am not in favour of females terminating their pregnancies but many argue that terminating (disposing of) a foetus conceived under undesirable circumstances is better than bringing a child into this world and take a chance on adoption or watch the child suffer (at home, on the streets or in State care) or become a burden on and/or a danger to society. Those women who dispose of their babies before they are born argue that it's the lesser of two evils when compared to disposing of (not caring for) them after they are born; therefore, most terminations are done for socio-economic reasons and only a tiny portion is therapeutic.

To reduce abortions, as a society, we must continue to re-energise and modernise our efforts at encouraging family planning (preventative contraception). And, should we fail at that, we must de-stigmatise unscheduled pregnancies and provide assistance and/or psychological support to 'unscheduled' mothers.

We must vigorously ensure that parents do not abdicate their responsibilities to their children after they are born. We must hold fathers responsible - mothers complain that our family court system is too lenient on deadbeat dads and that getting fathers to pay up is a tedious, embarrassing and time-consuming process. With all that in mind, many women choose not to carry their pregnancies to term because of unsupportive men and, we all know what that portends, especially for our young males - criminals and gangs often fill that vacuum.

The government needs to monitor relentlessly and meticulously and intervene in the lives of all our children, or women will continue disposing of them before or after they are born.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may be sent to or