No Safe Options for South Africa Women Abandoning Babies

In South Africa it is against the law to abandon a child, specifically an infant, in such a way that the baby is likely to die. But people are rarely prosecuted for this crime. This is usually because the perpetrator, often the mother cannot be located. When found, individuals are usually charged with murder. Quantifying the number of infants who die as a result of abandonment proves challenging. In 2021, through an informal gathering of news reports between the months of January and July, a total of 43 infants were unsafely abandoned and only 23 of them were found alive. There are a number of reasons for child abandonment in South Africa. These include restrictive legislation, poverty, high levels of violence including rape, extreme gender inequality and diminishing family support.

South Africa does not provide safe alternatives for desperate mothers who see no other option but to unsafely abandon a baby.  Whitney Rosenberg , Lecturer, Law of Persons and Family at the University of Johannesburg, proposes that the legalisation of safe relinquishment with the continued prosecution for unsafe abandonment be enacted. Giving mothers more options rather than fewer will justify a prosecution for abandonment if done unsafely.


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