Abandoned Children & Stigmatized Parents

Sometimes children are abandoned, either by a parent or by another relative or carer. If so, very little may be known about these abandoned children. Social services are often too stretched to investigate. And if a child is abandoned, those involved may do their best to make sure they are not easily discovered.

Abandoned children in orphanages and baby homes

Children singing at Watoto Kicheko

Children singing at Watoto Kicheko

So orphanages and baby homes that receive abandoned children can have very thin files about some in their care! Over time, it’s possible to build up details about the child, their health, education, development and other milestones. But their family, community and other origins may remain unknown.

Children themselves, sponsors, potential adoptive parents and others would like to know about children’s history. It is something the child is entitled to as they grow up, albeit away from their family and community. But at times we can only collect limited information, with some of it being highly questionable.

It is easy to raise questions about how parents, relatives and others can abondon a child. But it is worth bearing in mind that the mother may not have chosen to become pregnant, being too young, too poor, or just not ready. There are many other circumstances that may affect a mother’s ability to care for a child.

It’s also easy to blame fathers, but they and others who care for children are entitled to very little support, if any. There is no statutory paternal leave, and even that wouldn’t help a single father very much. But, again, there are all kinds of scenarios making it difficult or impossible to care for a child.

Lack of facilities available for children

People who care for children need to work, and few jobs include childcare facilities or time off for parental duties. It is rare to have a job that allows you to bring your child to work, and working environments are often not the most appropriate for children. In short, being a parent, especially a single parent, can be next to impossible.

While allowances are made for women under certain circumstances, this is rarely the case for men. They are generally expected to find someone to take care of his children, no matter how badly equipped or how inappropriate that person may be. Children can end up being looked after by the least experienced people of all, who can’t find any other job.

So abandoned children will remain a problem for those who care for them. There may well be opportunists who look for cheap childcare facilities, people who prioritize other concerns over their children, and some who abandon or neglect their children. But I suspect that the majority of children are in this precarious position because their parents or carers are themselves unable to cope.

Stigmatizing or blaming parents makes things worse

I’m not trying to make excuses for people who are not givingfailing to give to children, often their own children, the care to which they are entitled. But the finger-pointing mentality only increases the chances that those involved will try to keep their identity unknown. Placing the blame at the feet of parents and carers of children does not encourage them to seek help, to find a way to care for their children themselves, at home, or in their own community.

Child at Watoto Kicheko

Child at Watoto Kicheko

Of course, there are not many facilities, there is not much help to be found, Tanzania is a very poor country. But assuming that every abandoned child results from bad parenting does nothing to help the child; it does nothing to help find a way for that child to stay at home, with their parents, other relatives, or able carers.

It is far better if a child is brought to a facility, and the connection with their family and community retained, than for that child to be abandoned, without any idea of who their family or community is. For that to happen, parents and carers need to know that they will not be stigmatized just for seeking help, for trying to get the best care for their children, especially where they are unable to give them that care themselves, or unable to do so alone.

By Simon Collery

Simon Collery has been an online content writer and blogger since the late 1990s, developing content for an information industry website, and later, writing about development, HIV, human rights and other subjects, mainly in East Africa. He is a co-founder of the Don't Get Stuck Collective, a group of people who write and agitate for greater recognition of non-sexually transmitted HIV and other bloodborne disease, especially through unsafe healthcare, cosmetic and traditional practices, mainly in Africa and Asia. He also blogs about media depictions of African people, unethical practices by publicly funded western institutions in African countries, mass male circumcision programs carried out in African countries using mainly US funding, and other subjects. He has a particular interest in Kenya and Tanzania.