AN unknown mother has become the first woman to publicly embrace the government's call to leave 'unwanted' babies in safe care when she left her baby boy at the Engela District Hospital in Ohangwena region on Monday.
Ohangwena police spokesperson, warrant officer Abner Kaume Itumba confirmed that at around 15h00 at Engela District Hospital, a woman left her two-month-old baby in the hospital queue with another unsuspecting woman.
Itumba said the unidentified "middle-aged mother" was at the hospital in the queue for those seeking medical assistance. She asked another woman to hold the baby for her while she went to the toilet.
"The woman waited for three hours and realised the mother of the baby was not coming back. She then took the baby to the nurses, who alerted the police," he said.
Itumba said the baby was left with a bag containing clothes but no health passport, so they are unable to get details of the mother. The baby is said to be in stable condition. Furthermore, he said efforts to locate the baby's mother have been fruitless so far, and the police are seeking help to trace her. He believes the mother lives in a nearby village.
"The baby has big eyes and a sharp nose, [and is] wearing a grey overall. His bag, where his clothes are packed, is black, and there is a small cream blanket as well as a sky blue one," Itumba said.
The Namibian reported last year that the government, through the gender ministry, had made a provision in Article 227 of the Child Protection Act to decriminalise abandonment of babies if they are left in safe places.
Deputy director for child and welfare services at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Joyce Nakuta, said the police do not need to look for the woman to face prosecution, as she had left the baby in a safe place.
She said as long as mothers leave babies at safe places, they will be free from prosecution.
Nakuta told The Namibian that the new law provides for babies to be left at certain safe places such as hospitals, police offices and registered places of safety. She, however, said the ministry is yet to communicate the new process to all police regional commanders.
"Last year, we started training social workers at the ministry and at hospitals. But we are yet to reach all stakeholders, who will ensure effective implementation of this act. This includes the police. We have informed the Windhoek police as we mostly work with the City Police. There is still more work to be done," she said, adding that this is why the Ohangwena police are looking for the mother.
Nakuta said she would inform their control social worker in Ohangwena region to speak to the regional commander so that the baby can be put in the care of the ministry.
TRACING THE MOTHER
Once the baby has been put in the care of the ministry, Nakuta said, they would place an advert in newspapers to try and track down the mother or any family member to claim the child. This, she said, is not done to prosecute the mother if she comes forward, but to engage and have a discussion with her should she agree to give up her child for adoption.
"We have to give the mother the benefit of the doubt. We cannot assume the person does not want the baby because they left behind. Sometimes people drop off their babies because of post-traumatic stress and after counselling they change their minds," she said.
Nakuta said if none of the parents or family members of the baby come forward within 60 days of the advert in the newspaper, the ministry will place the child on their family list so that he or she can be given up for adoption or placed in foster care.
The incident comes a week after two newborn babies were found abandoned at the Walvis Bay municipal landfill site in two separate incidents last week. Reacting to the incidents, Erongo police unit commander for community affairs, warrant officer Ileni Shapumba, appealed to women not to dump their babies, but rather seek help.