Written by By Staff Writer
Saturday’s discovery of a baby’s body found in a trash-filled drain inside a building in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, has prompted an outcry as authorities struggle to ensure baby safe haven laws are being implemented.
A witness reported finding the child after a neighbor alerted police. According to Burkina Faso’s Health Minister Mohamed Bazoum, the unnamed baby was around 3-months-old and died around two months ago.
“The dead body has been left outside,” he told AFP in an interview Sunday. “The baby was born in a birthing center and she died inside.”
“We are going to make the investigation public because this is a cry for help,” said Bazoum. “We have to protect our daughters.”
Eloise Boby Autimi, a spokesperson for the directorate general of health, told AFP that in 2014, there were 50 safe haven laws in place across Africa, of which only three or four had been implemented.
In many countries, women who have had a baby within the first 12 weeks, or do not want to keep it, can leave their newborn baby with a hospital or a hospital emergency, effectively making it safe harbor.
Those laws are primarily enforced by clinics in high-risk situations where there are higher percentages of unplanned pregnancies, and in countries where the practice is encouraged by local elders, according to the African nonprofit Advancing Women through Health and Research (AWARE).
The Baby Safe Haven Act was passed in the U.S. in 1999, but has not been used. This means that fetuses are not legally recognized, while safe haven babies, of whatever age, can be kept by the mother at her request.
But some of these laws are being challenged in many African countries. In November, the lawyer for the Mboro Secular, one of the most traditional areas of Burkina Faso, told CNN that “if you love a child you have the right to let them go.”
In Cameroon, women are required to wait seven days after giving birth to register the birth. Elsewhere, the law is waived, and many countries do not mandate any regulation at all.
Some activists believe that safe haven laws could be challenging to enforce because one of the main challenges is that African countries are located near regional and global borders.
While most people accept safe haven laws in theory, many public figures in Burkina Faso have said they have been accused of “illegal adoption,” but Bazoum says the investigations are going ahead.
“She is an icon of tomorrow, but we are going to fight for her right to live and bring her up,” said Bazoum.