Woman’s Month, this August, has been full of questions to ponder over, for me and maybe for many.  A good number revolve around law.  Every day national TV features court cases that appear to be never-ending, and definitely seem to be splitting hairs in legal debates over various matters. Who did what, when, how and why, but then not resolving the case.

Over the last week I watched a webinar on the National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence and preparations for the upcoming Presidential Summit.  Important, but will that resolve the issue of family violence or just excavate the topic of women’s rights and abuses?  The next day another working session with the Department for Social Development Family Services Forum included research on the 200 000 homeless people in our country, living on the street or making use of shelters. Once again good work and valuable information, but I did not hear much of the reality of the lives of families and children.

Another valuable webinar by the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office on projects dealing with abandonment of babies.  It began with the statement “3500 children survive abandonment each year.”  To get the picture one needs to understand the wider circumstances. It is almost exclusively a woman’s issue, with fathers on the fringes. Its main contributing causes, the three chief social ills, poverty, inequality and unemployment, lie at the heart of abandonment. Women and young girls, who are pregnant, possibly also experiencing gbv, rape and incest find themselves unable to cope with a pregnancy and find little counselling available.  Early abortion happens, estimated at 250 000 per year, but more than 50% are still believed to be illegal, as we know putting the mother’s life at risk too. Late term abortion equates to an unnatural “still-birth” and abandonment.

Projects outlined at the webinar to protect the babies, 65% being newborn and 90% being under a year, include BABY SAVERS and BABY SAFE HAVEN as approaches to relinquishing the child.  BABY SAVER boxes, also termed “A Door of Hope” exist as a box with an opening flap in a wall. where babies can be left, almost invariably anonymously by a mother. At present there are 40 venues, e.g. a charity. Still tragic but so much better than the common way when in most cases abandoned babies are dumped in toilets, dustbins, drains, or in a rubbish bag the veld.   

Abandonment under any circumstances is a crime and under existing laws any method is illegal.  Whether a baby is found alive or not, legal steps need to be followed to try to identify the baby. However there are organisations working towards reform in the laws for the benefit and safety of the child and the mother. Life should be more important than identity.  An abandoned baby is initially taken up into the child protection system until it can be placed in an appropriate home or family.  While the focus is on the child the trauma undergone by the mother cannot be denied and support should be available for her, ideally of course to prevent her thinking in her distress that this is her only option.      

The law, in any such and all circumstances, should not be quibbling about wording but be about justice, and even more than that, about life, dignity and rights and wellbeing.  Which brings me to the sausage issue. Daily maverick reported on a legal dispute at present in the industry, about labelling of non-meat products, e.g. sausages, burgers or nuggets using those terms. Suppliers are not permitted to label their products “vegetable burger” or “non-meat sausage.” Such products are at risk of being confiscated by the Food Safety Authority, a financial burden to suppliers and naturally also to families at home when these products are not available. Whose interests are at the heart of this debate?   

The daily gospel readings from Matthew chapter 23 at the moment begin with “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,  blind guides………” “You have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith.“  For me the weightier matters of justice and mercy and also of love have highlighted that along with all the nit-picking, in the events of daily life Family does Matter in every conceivable way.      

For some information on baby abandonment go to https://forthevoiceless.co.za.   Also for crisis pregnancy support www.cultureoflife.co.za,  a home for abandoned babies- The Love of Christ Ministries. https://tlc.org.za  TR FAMILY MATTERS WEEKLY 24 AUGUST 2022