|© UNICEF Morocco/2010|
|Abandoned children sleep in a Moroccan orphanage. Thousands of children in the country are abandoned every year.|
By Aniss Maghri
MARRAKESH, Morocco, 4 August 2010 – Karima (not her real name), 23, is struggling with the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy alone. The baby’s father left her, and to hide her situation she left her parents’ house in the Marrakesh countryside. Due to traditional views on pregnancy outside of marriage and fears of the repercussions, she has not told her father, only her mother.
“I don’t want other girls to be trapped like me and be faced by the hardship of a life like mine,” said Karima.
With the help of the Moroccan League for Child Protection (LMPE), a local partner, UNICEF is working to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and support single mothers. But the problem may be more widespread than experts once believed.
Ostracism and desperation
According to a recent study conducted by UNICEF and LMPE, which was chaired by Her Highness, Princess Lalla Amina, some 6,480 Moroccan babies were abandoned at birth in 2008 – representing between 1 and 2 per cent of all births in the country. Single mothers are often ostracized by their families and society, and the lack of emotional and financial support has led many to take desperate measures, including abandoning their children.
|© UNICEF Morocco/2010|
|An abandoned baby is held in Morocco.|
“The phenomenon is mainly observed in the urban areas,” said UNICEF Representative in Morocco Aloys Kamuragiye. “A large number of abandonments are operated by informal intermediaries,” he added, referring to people who assist mothers in finding homes or institutions for abandoned babies.
As a consequence of the study, UNICEF and LMPE have established a task force to tackle this issue. A group from the Swedish Committee for UNICEF visited Marrakesh, along with a donor who subsequently contributed $100,000 to support a new project on preventing abandonment of children. The project aims at providing psycho-social support and counselling services to single mothers and girls at risk of unwanted pregnancies. A dedicated centre, established within the LMPE office in Marrakesh, is currently offering these services.
Progress has been made, as well, towards encouraging paternal responsibility. “Recently, a reluctant father confirmed that he would recognize the baby if the DNA test proved that the child belongs to him,” said Shems Eddoha, a social worker with the project.
A second component of the abandonment prevention project involves raising awareness and sensitizing families and communities. Families are made aware of their responsibility to ensure a protective and supportive environment for their daughters in order to avoid ostracism and child abandonment.
The campaign also targets high schools and various other places where girls meet, seeking to raise awareness of the consequences of unwanted pregnancies and of abandoning a child.
Karima has participated in the new campaign. “Single mothers are dealing with a very difficult situation,” she said. “I used to have dreams before my pregnancy. Now they have gone. I do not want other young girls to be in the same situation.”
Karima’s friend, who is 19 years old, is another single mother. “Both my family and I are responsible for my situation,” she said. “My parents never looked after me during my studies, were never interested in finding out my problems, never noticed changes in my behavior.
“Families must know,” she added. “They must be held responsible for protecting their children.”