OPINION

Suppression is no answer

The law is unbending. The last thing the Filipino woman – charged with endangering a minor and perjury – who handed over the newborn baby to the police wanted was to endanger the child. She only lied because she didn’t know that she could tell the truth without the child’s mother having to face repercussions. Lying was the only way she knew to protect herself from getting into trouble. The child was not being abandoned; it was being saved. It was handed over so that someone would take it, save it. If we had special units for such children, then maybe the Filipino woman would not have had to construct such an elaborate story, saying that she had found the child in the trash. She could have left the child at a baby depository and protected both its life and its mother’s anonymity. But Greece is not equipped with such high-tech heated depositories at hospitals that instantly alert doctors to the baby’s «arrival,» as in other European countries such as Italy, where the abandonment of babies in garbage dumps and trash cans had reached epidemic proportions. All we have here is indifference toward the illegal and the dejected – and punishment. But a baby left in a trash can, unknown by whom or why, shocks, stuns and mobilizes. So long as we don’t know where the baby came from, we feel compassion. When its identity is revealed, this emotional turmoil subsides and the baby that was thrown into the trash becomes just another abandoned minor. It all starts to make sense: Social and economic marginalization overcame the forces of nature. Despair, panic, public ostracism and hate made the baby a nightmare. But, where does the baby go? To some institution, we think, to be put up for adoption. And we feel better because everything has been sorted out. What we don’t know, unless we have been personally involved in the process, is how hard it is, from a bureaucratic perspective, for a baby to be transferred from a hospital to an institution, and how much harder it is then for it to be adopted. Sometimes it can take years before the paperwork is complete. Sometimes the candidate parents no longer want it because it is too old. The baby, meanwhile, has been raised by strangers, without the tenderness of a mother’s kiss or touch. That is something that can never be «sorted out» and scars the child for life. In other European countries where child abandonment is not a rare phenomenon, the state has awareness campaigns aimed at illegal migrants, informing them of their rights: that they are entitled to medical care over the course of their pregnancy, that they can give birth in a hospital and that they will be allowed to stay in the country for at least six months after the baby is born. Under these circumstances, the likelihood of them deciding to keep the child is much greater. In Greece, where the solution to such problems is suppression of the problem, child abandonment is rare (just two or three cases are reported a year). But a lot more children (over 50 a year) are abandoned at the country’s major maternity wards. Half are foreign and these are even harder for social services to reunite with their families. So they stay in the hospitals, sometimes for months, until the paperwork is ready to send them into the system, into a preordained life.