A harrowing phenomenon: More young mothers abandon their offspring

By Long Nguyen   September 5, 2020 | 04:26 pm PT
Lacking essential life skills and support, many young women have given up their newborns in the past few years, causing an ethical storm.

On June 9, a newly born boy was found abandoned near a manhole in Hanoi's Son Tay Town, covered in ant bites and with his ears, eyes and mouth infested with maggots. The infant, having spent 40 hours exposed to the elements, was immediately hospitalized.

Unfortunately, he succumbed to septic shock after 21 days of intensive care at Hanoi's Saint Paul Hospital, with his spurned mother subsequently arrested by local police.

In recent times, many cases of newborn abandonment have been uncovered across metropolises and remote areas in Vietnam.

In Hanoi, four cases were reported since the beginning of this year, including two infants in Gia Lam District and another in Me Linh, left with a note stating the mother could not bring the child up due to personal circumstance.

In northern Hai Phong City, only four babies were abandoned from 2011 to 2014, but the number had escalated to 25 in the 2015-2019 period, according to the People's Committee of the city.

An abandoned infant in southern Ca Mau Province in July 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hung Phuc.

An abandoned infant in southern Ca Mau Province in July 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hung Phuc.

In southern Kien Giang Province, at least four infants were abandoned since the beginning of this year. In the last five years, around 40,000 abandoned babies were collected and buried by "Bao Ve Su Song" (Life Protection) organization under Tan Long Parish.

Instances of babies found in a manhole, wrapped in a suitcase, left in front of pagodas... have become alarming phenomena. In the last ten years, the numbers have only increased, creating community backlash, according to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

"Why are there babies not given up for adoption, since there are many families who want, but cannot have children of their own. It is inhumane," said Nguyen Thi Hang, from Hanoi's Gia Lam District where an infant was abandoned in a narrow gap between two houses in August.

Such unethical behavior can affect the mothers in many ways, burdening them with feelings of guilt for the rest of their lives, said psychology expert Nguyen Trong Nhan.

Perfect storm

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), most Vietnamese mothers who abandon their young are teenagers, students experiencing unintended pregnancy, young industrial zone workers, those with health issues including HIV or mental problems, and those faced with a heavy financial burden.

A lack of comprehensive sexual awareness is a leading cause of unplanned pregnancies among young Vietnamese, directly influencing the country’s high abortion rate.

According to the Department of Maternal Health and Children under the Ministry of Health, Vietnam conducts around 300,000 - 400,000 abortions among women aged 15-19 each year.

While Vietnam ranks top in Asia and among the top five worldwide in the rate of abortion, a 2017 survey of Vietnamese aged 15-24 by the United Nations Population Fund found 83 percent knew about condoms and 63 percent understood their use, but that only 24 percent knew how to use them properly.

A survey by sexual health brand Durex in 2017 revealed Vietnamese have sex for their first time at an average age of 19.6, younger than those in Malaysia, India, Singapore, China, and Thailand.

According to experts, while more Vietnamese are making their sexual debut at a young age, related knowledge and life skills are lagging, causing a perfect storm for unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease.

Major Nguyen Dang Manh, deputy head of Hanois Gia Lam District Police, holds a newborn baby he helped rescue from a gap between two houses, August 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of Gia Lam District police.

Major Nguyen Dang Manh, deputy head of Hanoi's Gia Lam District Police, holds a newborn baby he helped rescue from a gap between two houses, August 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of police from Hanoi's Gia Lam district.

Lack of understanding in terms of the law is another factor driving the troubling situation.

According to lawyer Tran Minh Cuong in Ho Chi Minh City, people could be face administrative or criminal charges if abandoning their infants.

"Those abandoning their babies within seven days after birth, leading to the death of the child, will face criminal charges and a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment," Cuong said, adding he thinks such penalties are inadequate in relation to the crime perpetrated.

Empowering young women with sexual awareness and life skills is one of the foremost solutions.

"We must prioritize improving awareness and a sense of responsibility among young people," said Do Van Du, deputy head of Hanoi-based Institute of Human Resources Training and International Cooperation.

Many people think new born fathers should take equal responsibility when it comes to giving birth and abandoning innocent babies.

Meanwhile, many helpless newborns still face a myriad of dangers due to the irresponsible behavior of their parents.

The infant found in Hanoi's Son Tay Town was named An (Peaceful) by the doctor at Saint Paul Hospital. Dozens of hopeful parents came to inquire about his adoption. But An, whose life proved paradoxical to his name, could not wait.

His detained mother said she could not remember who the father was.

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