Wednesday, November 29

A cradle of hope


WE could have missed the news of a new-born baby found in a drawer this week.

According to the first news report, a 17-year-old girl said she heard faint baby cries and upon checking the storeroom of her home, found an infant wrapped in a towel in a cupboard. She then alerted her family members.

Police arrived together with medics from Sibu Hospital. Thank God, the baby was reported to be in good health.

The next day, police unravelled the ‘mystery’ after establishing that the girl in question was, in fact, the mother of the child.

What is shocking is that the girl, initially thought to be 17 years old, was actually not even a teen – just 12 years old and who has been in a relationship with a 15-year-old boy from the same kampung.

The girl hid in a toilet and gave birth around 6pm on Sunday (Dec 2) before hiding her new-born in a storeroom cupboard on the groundfloor of her wooden house.

The teenage father, a Form Three student, was subsequently detained.

That would seem to be the end of the story but we know better because it is not. On the contrary, it marks the beginning of a new life and also an unsavory promise of a string of problems ahead for both the young mother, the equally young father, their families and society at large.

I texted a learned friend, a humble father who is working hard for many young ones: “She’s only a baby herself and she gave birth to a baby all by herself.”

My friend replied: “Is it a surprise?”

With a heavy heart, I said: “Not really, but I’m sad and heartbroken. It’s unthinkable how a 12-year-old could have endured the labour of childbirth without any support and medical help. Where were the parents?”

Teen pregnancies should rightly be a major concern in Sarawak, considering the state is now ranked No. 2 in that respect nationwide after Sabah.

Parenthood requires maturity and an understanding of responsibility. It is already an incredibly tough task for adults who have planned on having children. What chance do children born to teenage parents havefor a stable family life and future success when their parents are themselves children?

My friend who is in the medical field went on to tell me about 13 per cent of deliveries in the state are by teenagers and among them, one in six continues to deliver a second baby while still a teen.

“That brings up the importance of schooling,” he said.

Yes, the girl is 12 and we expect her to be in Primary Six based on our education system. Under Malaysian law, education is compulsory up to 12. No one is liable after 12.

She could have passed 12 years old but not yet 13. If she is not good in academics, can she not be enrolled in a vocational school to learn some useful skills to look after herself and eventually fend for herself?

Given the high incidence of unwanted teen pregnancies in the state, we would be doing society at large a big favour and ‘child parents’ a good turn by making a conscious effort to deliberate further on the importance of sexuality and safety education, prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well as to ensure justice is served in cases of statutory rape.

It’s just two weeks to Christmas and Jim Reeves croons: “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven… the angels keep their watch of wondering love, the morning star proclaims the holy birth.”

After listening to such reassuring words, I couldn’t help but think of the predicament the girl has gotten herself into – innocently perhaps and most likely also due to lack of proper guidance.

If for some reasons (best known to themselves), her parents and the people around her weren’t aware of the consequences of a pregnancy carried to full term without any medical attention and care, then a fortiori, neither could the young mother be, especially one who is not even a teen yet.

Honestly, should not her full-term pregnancy have at least been noticed and known to the adults living under the same roof? What about now? Is she getting any postnatal care?

My friend agonised: “The pregnancy could easily have taken her life and her baby’s.”

But there is hope.

According to Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, the One Stop Teenage Pregnancy Committee (OSTPC) has been set up in 2014 in all the divisions of Sarawak.

It is an Inter-Agency Council, providing support system to teenage mothers to help them continue schooling, and implement programmes to bring down the number of teen pregnancies.

She also said the Social Development Council (MPS) would be more aggressive in holding awareness programmes, including ‘Randau Sosial’ sessions to empower teenage girls with the awareness and knowledge that education is key to their success in life, and to help them avoid social ills.

It requires a concerted effort – from the home to the school and society at large – as well asa strong political will from the government to combat teen pregnancies and give young women a cradle of hope to stay on the right path for a better future.