With a reported 3500 unwanted babies deserted every year, it’s safe to say that child abandonment in South Africa is an epidemic. And, while this is a growing problem, few know that it is a crime for a parent, legal guardian or caregiver to desert a child for no reason without any contact for 3 months. Of course, the law is supposed to protect the rights of children, and there are legal consequences for anyone who is found guilty of abandoning a child.

While it is illegal, there are various reasons that parents abandon their children. According to The Department of Social Development, the primary reasons include financial issues, lack of family support, unwanted pregnancy, resentment of baby and fear of judgement from family members.

Legal protection of the rights of children in South Africa

The legal rights of infants and minors are protected by the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. While this law is deemed pretty broad when it comes to the care and protection of children many have criticised its practical implementation and have identified areas where the law can improve and offer more safety.

Activist and researcher Dee Black from the National Adoption Coalition South Africa (NACSA) highlighted the following issues:

  • Illegal immigrants are unable to legally place their children in the formal child protection system in South Africa, and face deportation should they try.
  • Relinquishing parental rights so that a child can be adopted, can only be done with a legal guardian’s consent from the age of 18 years, making this option inaccessible to teenage mothers; however, a child of any age can request an abortion in South Africa sending mixed messages about the choice of adoption.
  • Child abandonment is a criminal offence, and a person who abandons a child after birth may be charged and prosecuted. Charges could include crimes such as concealment of birth and attempted murder.
  • Baby safes are illegal, however, these are being opened up more frequently given the increase in abandonment.
  • Many abandoned children don’t even make it into the formal child protection system, as they are absorbed into communities through ‘informal adoption’, raising concerns around issues such as child trafficking.

Alarmingly, child protection specialists have also argued that the law does very little to facilitate the adoption of abandoned children who find themselves on the Registry of Adoptable Children & Parents (RACAP). And with the number of orphaned infants on the rise and the rate of adoption on the decline, this is proving to be a significant setback.

The primary issue here is that the law doesn’t do enough to de-stigmatise cross-racial adoptions, with many adoptive parents experiencing discrimination from the courts and the Department of Social Development and, of course, society in general.

Alternate options for people who don’t want their children

If finances are the primary concern, applying for a child support grant could alleviate some of the pressure. Alternatively, contacting a social worker is recommended. They can help with placing the child in foster care or adoption programmes. If that’s not possible, the social worker can also assist with placing the child in a youth care centre.

The road ahead…

So, it’s clear that child abandonment in South Africa is a growing epidemic, and people who do not want their children need to understand that they are committing a crime if they desert their babies. It’s important to remember that child abandonment isn’t a solution and that there are alternative options. And, while our law protects children, we will hopefully see it develop further to keep our kids off the streets.

Want to help make a difference?

If you want to lend a helping hand to the orphans and vulnerable children of South Africa, you can help raise funds or volunteer for the Door of Hope.