Malaysia opens 'hatch' for abandoned babies

Baby boy abandoned in the OrphanCARE 'baby hatch' with caregiver This baby boy was the first to be left in the hatch that was introduced in Malaysia in May

Related Stories

The cries of an abandoned baby boy echo in the nursery at Orphancare, a Malaysian charity that helps orphans find adoptive parents.

He is the only child here and does not have a name. But in many ways he is seen as one of the lucky ones.

He was left in a baby "hatch" - the first in the country - designed to allow mothers to leave their babies anonymously.

The charity hopes it will rescue more unwanted newborns, as the authorities seek to stem the rising number of abandoned babies.

Close to 500 babies have been found abandoned since 2005. Some were left in Muslim prayer halls, on doorsteps and even in rubbish bins. Many are found dead.

It is thought these children are mainly abandoned by single mothers. Having a child out of wedlock is still seen as deeply shameful in this Muslim-majority country, where sex education is mainly focused on abstinence.

'The only solution'

The Orphancare office is located in a quiet suburb outside Kuala Lumpur.

Noraini Hashim of Orphancare demonstrates the baby hatch Noraini Hashim of Orphancare demonstrates the baby hatch

Next to the front entrance is a small door that opens to a tiny cot. Once the baby is placed in the cot, an alarm is triggered and the air conditioner turns on. When the door closes, the baby is safely locked inside and a caretaker fetches the child.

This way, the baby is kept safe, and the mother's identity will never be known.

Critics say the programme will make it too easy for mothers to abandon their babies, encouraging extra-marital sex.

But Noraini Hashim of Orphancare says anonymity is the only way to ensure parents will use the hatch rather than toss their babies in a bin.

"We're not out to prosecute the mother or the couple who brings the baby in," she says.

It is illegal for Muslims to have sex outside marriage in Malaysia.

The country has a dual track legal system where Islamic law applies to Muslims. Non-Muslims are covered under civil law.

But the stigma of having a child out of wedlock is what drives single mothers to desperate acts, says Ms Noraini.

She says the pressure is greater for young girls when their boyfriends leave them and they feel unable to confide in family or friends.

"In that state of depression I suppose the only solution they have is to abandon the baby," Ms Noraini says.

The government, concerned by the rising number of abandoned babies, has asked police to start investigating these cases as attempted murder or murder, which carry the death sentence.

'Shameful'

Close to the busy centre of Kuala Lumpur is a shelter for unmarried, pregnant women.

The Kewaja refuge is one of the few places they can turn to since abortion is not readily available.

Mila, a 28-year-old woman at the Kewaja Shelter Mila, 28, is engaged and has a steady job but still feels that she cannot keep her child

It is made up of a row of single-storey houses at the end of a dirt road, partly hidden by banana trees.

The women all wear headscarves and oversized T-shirts to hide their swollen bellies.

They will stay at the shelter until their babies are born.

Three women agreed to tell me their stories under condition of anonymity.

One 19-year-old girl, who calls herself Su, says she went to the shelter when she was five months pregnant so she wouldn't shame the family in front of the neighbours.

Siti, 18, gave birth to a baby girl at the shelter. Her father thinks she is away studying. She can't return home until her mother calls her back. She's been waiting for over a month.

Mila is 28 and came to the shelter in her final month of pregnancy. Unlike the other two she is engaged and has a steady job but she still feels unable to keep her child because having sex before marriage is forbidden in Islam.

"If the baby knew he was born out of wedlock he will carry the shame for the rest of his life," she says.

All three women told me they knew about contraception but were too ashamed to buy it.

The shelter is run by Yahya Mohamed Yusof and his wife.

He says shelters like his and the baby hatch help to save lives, but it doesn't tackle the problem of unwanted pregnancies.

Mr Yahya says they are seeing an increase every month.

"When we started 14 years ago, we had fewer than 10 girls at the shelter. But now, we have at least 70 pregnant women under our care," he says.

To keep their pregnancy secret, most of the women who stay at the Kewaja shelter will give their babies up for adoption.

In this country, unwed mothers still feel they have little choice.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia-Pacific stories

RSS

Features

  • RihannaCloud caution

    After celebrity leaks, what can you do to safeguard your photos?


  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Rack of lambFavourite feast

    Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.