By Helen Ovbiagele
I was quite moved when I read that a 23 year old girl had dumped her baby in a pit toilet in Benin City.Â According to the news report, the Edo State Police image maker, disclosed that it was a good Samaritan who alerted the police on discovering the baby in the pit toilet.Â
It was alleged that all efforts made by the Police to ensure that the child survived failed as the baby later died.Â The Police image maker advised young girls against unwanted pregnancies and dumping of their babies in toilets or in uncompleted buildings after birth, and he described the action of the suspect as criminal.
This advice was given as the poor mother was paraded before newsmen, and in an interview with newsmen, she regretted her action and begged for forgiveness.
Poor poor girl!Â Iâ€™m not supporting her action in dumping her baby in the pit toilet, but what was the essence in parading her before newsmen?Â Â To serve as a deterrent to other girls who might want to dump their babies?Â Has this ever worked?
â€œOf course, madam,â€ said a female neighbour.Â â€œIt was a very wicked thing to do.Â It was a criminal act.Â If she had been dumped by her own mother, would she have been alive today?â€
â€œNo, she wouldnâ€™t have been alive, but did anyone take the trouble to find out what let to her dumping the baby?Â Do mothers just get up and go chuck their babies in pit toilet, or dump them anywhere?Â Â Isnâ€™t the desire of most girls as theyâ€™re growing up in our society, be to get married and have babies?â€
â€œIt is, but this girl acted against the grain. She turned a thing of pride and joy into a crime and has brought trouble on herself.Â She should go to jail for that.Â Itâ€™s murder.â€
â€œIt is, but what would be gained by sending her to jail?Â Would it resolve the problem that made her dump the baby?â€
â€œIt may not, but she would come out of jail, reformed, and she would never dare dump her babyÂ again.Â A jail term would sober her up.â€
â€œDo you really believe that all those who serve jail terms come out sober and reformed?Â Donâ€™t the majority pick up bad habits there and sometimes come out as hardened criminals?Â Donâ€™t forget that in prison, the inmates mix with all sorts of people from all sorts of background.
We donâ€™t know why she rejected the baby and dumped it, but a vulnerable girl like that could be influenced and initiated into criminal activities which have nothing to do with what she was jailed for.â€
â€œMadam, thatâ€™s true of those jailed for the usual criminal acts, not for dumping babies, unless she already has those criminal tendencies in her.Â She wonâ€™t come out hardened.Â That public parade and the jail term will sober her and others wanting to tread that path.â€
I donâ€™t agree with that. Parading girls who dumped their babies might make the offenders remorseful or shame-faced but it isnâ€™t going to stop the practice for desperate girls with unwanted babies, just like jail terms havenâ€™t stopped criminal activities or even reduced them.
We should reprimand seriously, girls who dump their babies, but thereâ€™s no need to expose them to publicÂ ridicule, increasing their pain and humiliation.Â When theyâ€™re discovered, we should first of all, take them to the hospital for medical examination and care.
Their health and welfare should come first before the reprimand.Â Consider the trauma of their nine-month ordeal of unsupported pregnancy, and the agony of secret childbirth.
Obviously, they must have delivered their baby themselves underÂ unsafe conditions andÂ environment.
They should receive medical attention to ensure that their womb and all things connected with childbirth are in order.Â Next, if the baby is alive, it should receive medical attention too.
Next, the local government social welfare department should get involved and ask relevant questions; who the girl is, her parents and background, what she does, and most importantly, who was responsible for the pregnancy.
Her parents or guardians should be contacted to find out if they were aware that their daughter was pregnant, had had the baby and had dumped it.Â Some girls, especially school girls, are able to conceal pregnancy for quite some time.
This is why itâ€™s important for mothers to be on good terms with their daughters, gain their confidence, and watch keenly over them. In some families, the mother monitors very closely, the monthly periods of their daughters and other young females in their care.Â Â This may seem intrusive, but itâ€™s a nightmare when if you have an unmarried pregnant teenager on your hand.
Some parents may get very angry when an unmarried daughter gets pregnant, but usually, some become supportive of their daughter during pregnancy so that sheâ€™s adequately cared for. They find out whoâ€™s responsible for her condition, get in touch with him and try to find out if he accepts responsibility and how supportive heâ€™s going to be.
Even if the man denies that heâ€™s responsible, some parents will not send the pregnant girl out of the house, but rally round her caring for her and the baby.Â Across the country, you have kids whose fathers are unknown, or have absconded, being raised by their maternal grand parents. In our culture, hardly any family would want babies to be dumped.Â We have a proverb which says â€˜you never know which child will become useful and care for you in your hour of needâ€™.
For those girls who run away from home and get pregnant and then throw their baby away, the ward of the local government in which the incident occurred, should come to their aid with medical care.Â The man or men should be traced and invited down for questioning.
As much as possible these men should be formally asked to take responsibility for mother and the baby.
These girls need counselling and rehabilitation more than jail term.Â As a reprimand they can be sentenced by a juvenile court to community work of working in Old Peopleâ€™s homes, orphanages, hospitals, etc. for a specific period.Â After this, they can be sent to vocational centres to learn a trade so that they can support themselves (and their babies) financially.
Unmarried pregnant teenagers should be counselled on the option of putting their babies up for adoption through the Ministry of Social Welfare.