What goes through a mother’s mind as she leaves her baby and walks away? I’m obsessed by this question every time I hear of babies who are abandoned.
In April, a day-old baby boy was abandoned near a row of coconut trees in the city of Ha Long. When a passenger found him, he was in a critical condition with severe injuries to his head and body. The baby underwent an emergency operation and recovered.
In early July, a 10-day old baby girl was left under a bush in Tan Lap Ward in Buon Me Thuot City in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak. She was covered in bruises – and had been seriously attacked by insects. A kind-hearted woman took her to hospital.
Later that month, people found the body of an infant boy floating in Hoan Kiem Lake in Ha Noi with the umbilical cord still attached. He was not so lucky.
Statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs show that from 2004 to 2013, there were 176,000 abandoned children nationwide – or about 17,000 a year. Reports indicate that the number is increasing.
Not all of these children are as lucky as Nguyen Thien Nhan, a boy abandoned in a central province and savaged by dogs several years ago. He was adopted by kindhearted parents who hired foreign doctors to repair his wounds.
Many abandoned kids are raised by social protection centres, or in some pagodas where nuns and monks provide free accommodation and care. While undoubtedly there will be gaps in their hearts as they grow up, they face bigger risks.
Recently, at Bo De Pagoda in Ha Noi, police found that one abandoned baby boy being raised there had been sold for VND35 million (US$1,650) by a nanny working there. He later died.
This might ring alarm bells for potential mothers forced to think of leaving their babies somewhere and walking away. These mums must have good reasons for doing so. It’s hard to say, but the “me-first” attitude growing in Viet Nam and the rest of the world might have something to do with it.
“The mothers might have financial difficulties, they might not be married and have pressure from conservative families and society,” said Huynh Van Son, a psychologist and deputy chairman of Viet Nam Psychological Association. “But overall, they are selfish and irresponsible,” he maintains. He also blames the modern lifestyle with its fake ideals and fears of facing up to one’s mistakes among young people.
Unfortunately, the mums involved lack someone to tell them that raising the kid themselves would be worth any sacrifice they had to make.
Kim Anh, 22, who volunteers to take care of abandoned children in a hospital in Ha Noi, said she recently received a message from one woman, saying that she was pregnant and thinking of giving the child away for adoption. “If she does so, I believe she will regret it for the rest of her life. It’s like selling your soul to the devil,” Kim Anh said.
“I’m not a mother yet, but I think the basic instinct for a mother is to keep your babies close to you. There is no acceptable reason for abandoning your own babies,” she said.
Walking away from your babies is not only morally wrong, it is also legally wrong. As stated in Article 94 of the Viet Nam Criminal Code, mothers who abandon newborn babies that die face jail for up to two years. If the babies survive, mothers can be sentenced to pay a fine.
The law, however, is not a sufficient deterrent, said Lawyer Ngo Dinh Hoang from HCM City. “Many women are not aware that abandoning a baby is against the law. And they might not know that leaving a baby in an unsafe place is exposing it to hunger and attacks by wild animals and insects,” Hoang said.
Kim Anh, the volunteer, believes in consultancy. She spent time trying to persuade the pregnant single mum to keep her child. “I promised to help her find a job. Several days after, she contacted me and asked me to do so, and said she would keep her baby with her,” Anh said.
“Young women with unplanned pregnancies feel overwhelmed to find they are pregnant, but the moment we talk with them, it makes so much difference,” said Son, the psychologist.
“Being strong and responsible is easy to preach, but harder to practice. The fact is that the mothers need to be calm, clear and think carefully. And any consultancy or sharing from social workers or individuals is of great help,” he said.
Son said the traditional Vietnamese mindset was a huge hindrance in these types of situation. Most people still thought that even studying sex was not the thing to do – and that having babies without being married was immoral.
“With such prejudices, the number of abandoned babies is likely to increase. We need better emotional reactions and smarter behaviour,” he said. —VNS
PGS. TS Huỳnh Văn Sơn