Within the last year, 237 babies abandoned at birth by their mothers have been rescued by the Lagos state government. This is an alarming phenomenon that should disturb everyone in Nigeria.
According to the commissioner for youth and social development, Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, during a media briefing in April, the abandoned babies are made up of 106 males and 131 females. She also disclosed that in 2015, Lagos state also rescued 149 children.
Warning: This article contains graphic content.
Considering that statistics in Nigeria might not be very accurate, there are chances that these figures gotten from Lagos alone could be higher, as a result of unreported cases. Sadly, if the numbers of babies who have died due to exposure to harsh conditions are added to the available figures, and on the assumption that other big cities have half the number of rescued abandoned babies of Lagos, then the numbers become scary.
We are certainly witnessing a humanitarian crisis and human rights abuse of vulnerable babies that few people are talking about. Social media is flooded with gruesome pictures of abandoned babies in sewage tanks, refuse disposal sites, and the front of buildings now litter social media.
It is more heartbreaking that in some cases these babies are found still covered in blood, with uncut umbilical cords. They are wrapped and thrown into the most despicable places.
On Wednesday, May 17, a newborn baby was found in a refuse dump in Warri, Delta state Nigeria. Witnesses say its umbilical cord and placenta were found together with it. The baby died before help could arrive.
When these babies are not abandoned, they are sold to the highest bidder. The women, often girls, who don’t want their babies have the option of seeking buyers for themselves or patronising a baby trafficking syndicate known as ‘baby factory’.
At the baby factory, young girls who get pregnant are accommodated and fed by a seemly benevolent patron or matron. After the birth of their baby, they are given a fee as low as 100,000 naira for female babies and 300,000 naira for male babies. If they refuse to take the money, they will eventually have to leave without their babies.
Although this should not be held as a valid excuse for the degradation of innocent babies, research indicates that increase in teenage unwanted pregnancy accounts for the high rate of abandoned babies.
In other cases poverty which invariably translates to little or no resources to take care of the children has also aided abandonment of babies and the evils of baby factories.
Teenage girls and women who end up pregnant but cannot afford to raise a baby should be given a second option legally.
It is time to consider the topic of abortion. According to Nigeria’s anti-abortion law, Section 228 of Nigeria’s constitution states that any person providing a miscarriage to a woman is guilty of a felony and up to 14 years of imprisonment.
Section 229 states that any woman obtaining a miscarriage is guilty of a felony and up to imprisonment for 7 years. Section 230 states that anyone supplying anything intended for a woman’s miscarriage is also guilty of a felony and up to 3 years of imprisonment.
Nigeria is a deeply religious country and would frown at legalising abortion but it is time for an honest conversation on the issue at hand.
Allowing women to abort unwanted pregnancies may not solve the problem totally, but it could reduce infanticide and baby cruelty. If it can be combined with other enlightenment and empowerment tools, Nigeria should see a decline in abandoned babies. With standard health care and the option to abort, women may no longer be pressured to hide pregnancies, give birth then abandon or sell their babies.
Whatever the problems are, the women are also victims who are often abandoned by lovers and family and forced to commit these heinous crimes in some cases. Therefore, the Nigerian society needs to be more loving, accommodating and less judgmental of women and the challenges they face.
It is time for the government to step up social welfare programmes. This will encourage women with unwanted pregnancies to come forward and voluntarily hand over their kids to the government or institutions that will better care for the babies.
The future is at stake and there’s a need to speak up and fight for the lives of babies who are born due to no fault of theirs but are not wanted by their parents.