A recent report released by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Cape Town revealed that 19.6 in every 100 000 children are killed within the first 28 days of life in South Africa – the highest reported rate of murdered babies in the world.
The study, which was conducted between 2011 and 2012, was motivated by the lack of routine systems in existence within South Africa that tracks the number of children who are killed, particularly as a result of child abuse, said Professor Shanaaz Matthews from the Children’s Institute of University of Cape Town.
She said that since the MRC was conducting a study of females’ murder study within the country, the Institute thought that it would be fitting to include the murder of children into the study.
“We thought that it would be important for us to have routine data in order for us to develop improved prevention programmes,” Matthews said.
While infanticide refers to the killing of a baby in the first year of life, neonaticide is the killing of a baby in the first 28 days of life and early neonaticide refers to the killing of a baby in the first few days after birth.
Matthews said that within South Africa, the early neonaticide rate of 19.6 per 100 000 births, far exceeds stats that are reported in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, which ranges between 2.1 and 6.9 per 100 000 births.
She explained that through the study the institute will investigate the various reasons why babies are killed soon after birth and will analyse whether South Africa has adequate systems in place to provide recourse for such incidents. ?
One of the more vital findings from the research showed that mothers who kill their babies soon after childbirth tend to be younger than other mothers.
“Children under five years, who are killed, are predominantly killed by their mothers. And younger mothers kill in the first week after the baby is born,” Matthews said.
She said that these findings indicate that a requirement of pre and post natal institutions needs to be met within communities which avail vital services to mothers prior to the birth of the baby.
“We need to understand what the stresses are that mothers face during the pregnancy and in the family. If we are not offering them the correct services, a fatal outcome can occur.”
She further noted that mothers who kill their babies tend to conceal their pregnancies, while the dynamics surrounding such behaviour is not sufficiently understood.
“What we do know is that our mental health services for pregnant women are not ideal in South Africa.”
Matthews explained that since abortions laws are liberal within South Africa, abortion is easily accessible.
Since abortion needs to occur within the first trimester of a pregnancy, mothers would need to firstly, identify that they are pregnant and secondly, be able to access abortion services.
“We do know that our services are not always accessible and nurses who are managing these services also have attitudinal issues about abortion.”
“This issue not only relates to issues of morality, but I think this also relates to parent-child relationships and how we communicate with our children around the issue of sex and sexuality. It is important for children to understand, not just in terms of religion, the mental health and the long term implications of early pregnancies,” Matthews concluded. VOC