Recently, a newborn baby was left in the parking lot of a public building in Kuwait. The abandoning of this infant, who was later found dead, wasn’t an individual case. Almost every month, cases of abandoned new borns are reported across the region. Many of them are not found alive and some are deliberately murdered by their parents. For those who try to abandon their babies, typical spots where they are left include mosques, empty parking lots, garbage bins and other lightly trafficked areas.
Abandoning babies in public places sadly happens all around the world, but it’s a common problem in the Middle East and especially the Arab Gulf due to social mores and a legal system that leaves no room for unwed mothers. Sex outside marriage for women is a taboo in the region, and delivering a baby proves this crime that may result in the “honor killing” or imprisonment for the mother and a scandal that will tarnish the reputation of the entire family.
The majority of cases of abandoned babies in Kuwait and other Gulf Arab states are by expatriates – many of them domestic helpers who got pregnant out of wedlock. Since abortion is illegal (and if done illegally can be expensive or dangerous), many secretly deliver their babies and then leave abandon the newborns.
In the West, especially in Europe and the United States, governments have come with a solution that can save the lives of these unwanted babies. Baby boxes or hatches have been set up, usually in the form of drawers that are part of a building. The box has a suitable temperature that will help a newborn baby stay alive for some time. After the mother places the baby in the box, some kind of alarm reaches medics or carers to come and collect the baby and take it to the hospital. This technique saves the life of the baby, rather than being killed or left to die.
But are the local authorities or other Arab governments receptive to such an idea? It may sound against local traditions and customs, as it may seem to encourage immoral behavior, while it’s only meant to save the lives of unwanted babies.
To clarify the religious opinion in this matter, Kuwait Times called the fatwa call center for advice. The sheikh on the line condemned the act of adultery and of dumping babies resulting from this act on the streets to let them die. About the baby box particularly, he said: “You can place such a box near a mosque or elsewhere. This is not forbidden by Sharia”.
But when clarifying that should such a baby box be placed by a ministry or other government body, the sheikh refused to comment, ending the conversation by saying that his advice is only for individuals and not for public institutions or the government.
By Nawara Fattahova