The government, through the ministry of gender equality, has decriminalised baby dumping to allow mothers to leave their unwanted newborn babies at safe places without the risk of prosecution.
Statistics from the Namibian Police show that in 2017/18, only 25 cases of baby dumping were reported, but about 7 300 cases of abortion were recorded. This figure could, however, be even as high as 10 000 because some of the cases went unreported.
The Katutura Intermediate Hospital alone recorded 2 300 cases of abortion.
The deputy director for child and welfare services in the gender equality ministry, Joyce Nakuta, told The Namibian on Wednesday that the new law provides for babies to be left at certain safe places such as hospitals, police offices and registered places of safety.
Nakuta was referring to the child care protection bill passed in 2015 which provides a legislative framework to give effect to the rights of children below 18 years.
She said pregnant women go through a lot without any support from society, which in most cases leads them to dump their babies.
"When we are not able to support the mother, we end up sitting with a baby who will have a problem in the long run. That is if the baby survives. We want to discourage baby dumping, and allow people to come forward and say that they do not want the baby, and they want to give it up," Nakuta explained.
She said the ministry would also not encourage abortion, as the government's stance is clear on the issue. Abortion in Namibia is illegal, except where a rape victim falls pregnant, or in life-threatening situations.
"The ministry has made a provision in article 227 of the Child Protection Act that we decriminalise abandonment. Mothers are encouraged to leave babies, and they could stay anonymous, as long as the babies are unharmed. They can leave the babies at safe places, and we will not prosecute them. If you (a mother) are considering abortion, rather keep the baby until full term. Give birth, and the government will take over," she stressed.
Meanwhile, an organisation advocating women's rights and lobbying for human rights has welcomed the idea of decriminalising baby dumping.
Sister Namibia media officer Elsarien Katiti said women's rights has come a long way, and all the progress made thus far went through gradual changes to be achieved.
However, Katiti said "Our fear is that we are taking every possible deviation to address the real issue on the censorship of female reproductive rights, especially that of contraceptive autonomy".
She said Namibians are 'desperately' avoiding the issue of legalising abortion.
Katiti also questioned whether the state has enough safe homes across the country where women can drop off their babies, and have access to healthcare and psychological counselling after they leave their babies. Former health minister Bernard Haufiku once brought up the issue, but was not supported by his fellow lawmakers. His predecessors Nickey Iyambo and Libertina Amathila also supported legalising abortion.
"A report published during Amathila's tenure outlined that it cost the state more money to treat the effects of unsafe abortions than it does to have a safe abortion in a hospital," Katiti emphasised.
She said if one looks at the number, only 25 baby dumping cases were reported between 2017-18, but in the same period, over 7 300 abortion cases were recorded, and the figure is expected to reach 10 000 because of unrecorded cases.
"Choosing to instead deal with the issue of 25 over the issue of 10 000 shows how much we disregard the reproductive health and rights of women in Namibia.
"The female population between the ages of 20 and 34 is 220 852. Out of that, baby dumping amounts to 0,01%, while unsafe abortions is at 4,5%," Katiti said, adding that Namibia still needs to fast-track the choice and the right to safe termination of pregnancy without prosecution.
Gender research and advocacy project coordinator at the Legal Assistance Centre Dianne Hubbard echoed Katiti's sentiments, saying the option of leaving an unwanted baby at a safe place had been used successfully in many countries.
"Baby dumping, which endangers the health or safety of the child, is still a crime. The provisions for leaving unwanted children in a safe place so that they can be cared for should be an excellent way to discourage baby dumping", she said.
Hubbard added that while it may not prevent all such cases, it does seem like an excellent tool to address the problem.
"The safe places for leaving babies will need to be well-advertised, along with awareness-raising about adoption, foster care, kinship care, options for maintenance, help for post-partum depression, non-judgemental access to family planning, and the empowerment of women to improve their socio-economic situation.
"Like all social problems, baby dumping needs a set of responses. No one is suggesting that one type of response on its own is the answer," Hubbard stated.