Newborn babies are being abandoned at an alarming rate in South Africa.

Approximately 3 500 children are abandoned annually in South Africa, according to IOL.co.za - that's almost 300 children in a month. "However, this figure only includes survivors, the total number of abandonments is far higher," Karen Singh reports.

The reasons behind many abandonment cases are fueled by the fear of unsafe abortions, poverty, a lack of medical resources, support, and knowledge that women are so cruelly expected to live with.

Child protection activist, Dee Blackie says that the big issue around these cases is that we don’t take care of young women in this country. "We don’t provide them with education around how they fall pregnant or provide them with the support that they need in a loving and supportive way so that they can access contraceptives. If they try to access contraceptives, they are shamed and demonised." 

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In addition to being shamed for using contraceptive methods, young women are subjected to sexual violence and are not given the care they need at public clinics.

Dee recalls from her research that 40% of young girl’s first sexual experience was not consented, in other words they were raped. Regardless of the circumstances that lead to unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, women are severely shamed and blamed at the time they need assistance and support the most. 

"We’re not protecting young girls," Dee says; "we’re not providing them with the information they need, and then we are also subjecting them to high levels of sexual abuse and rape. When they fall pregnant, we are shaming and blaming them, we are isolating them, and we are essentially abandoning them. Then when they give birth, we are surprised that they are so desperate, that they make a decision to abandon their baby."

In South Africa, abortion is a legal practice. Yet, there is still a high number of illegal abortions that happen due to a lack of facilities and a lack support for young women.

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In her thesis on child abandonment, titled Sad, Bad, and Mad, she explains that the way young women are treated is based on the labels they are given for choosing to abandon their children. "We label them as sad, and lacking morals, and clinically depressed from postpartum depression, which allows us to do things like medicate them, or send them to an institution, or send them away to jail, and not take responsibility as a society for the fact that these young girls were not protected in the first place," Dee explains.

"That’s what creates child abandonment – it is the fact that society doesn’t care about young women." 

In distress and panic, and due to a general lack of useful information, young women often turn to illegal abortion practitioners for help. Dee explains that pregnant women who approach illegal abortion practitioners are given abortion 'drugs' and they are told that these will 'dissolve' the foetus and terminate the pregnancy.

However, what often happens is that the baby lives and is born prematurely, and ultimately the mother will abandon the baby as a last resort. 

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Unfortunately, the responsibility lies mostly with child care and reproductive health activists to bring to our society's attention the chilling facts around what young women experience with regards to unplanned pregnancies and abortion. The government is not doing enough, Dee says, in finding out what the issues really are and what can be done to remedy them.

"If we know who is abandoning, where they're abandoning, why they're abandoning, and how they're abandoning, we can start fixing that problem and make sure that there are resources available to young women," Dee says. 

Watch below: Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng speaking about the state of abortion services in South Africa 

If you are in a crisis due to an unplanned pregnancy, or if you know anyone who is, you can send a Whatsapp to 072 521 3429 or visit the Crisis Pregnancy website. 

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