Fr Carlos Luis SAC
Right when we were talking about creating awareness of the law for surrendering unwanted children and trying to reduce the stigma around abandonment, Pope Francis released his prayer intention for November 2022, inviting all of us to pray for children who are homeless, orphans and victims of war. In the video that announced the prayer intention, Pope Francis also stated that “an abandoned child is our fault”.
Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR) has documented 11 cases of infant abandonment from 2017-2022 in Goa. Historical patterns of child abandonment tell us that abandonment happens due to various motivations. Moses in the Old Testament was abandoned by his mother to save his life. Sophocles describes the abandonment of Oedipus as an act to rid oneself of a burden. Oedipus was given to a shepherd with instructions to leave him on a mountain to die of exposure.
Whatever the motivations, a historical survey of literature tells us that abandoned children led to the emergence of residential homes. These residential homes in 4th and 5th century Europe cared for and protected abandoned infants who were then referred to as “exposed infants”. European society in the 12th and 17th centuries built hospitals to look after abandoned infants. In the 18th century, the United States and Italy opened orphanages for the “found infants” from the Natchez massacre of 1729. And to date, there are plenty of agencies and commissions that protect the rights of children and see to the development of abandoned children.
The motivations for abandonment changed according to the situation. However, we can notify three categories of abandoning parents. The first category is the mother who finds herself pregnant and desserted by the father of the child; the second category is parents with poor social and moral adjustment, and who have difficulty accepting responsibility; and the third category is those who have had a child from an extramarital affair. Studies done on abandoned children tell us that abandonment has a detrimental psychological effect on the child. The children are not able to adjust socially and psychologically.
Thus, as Pope Francis tells us that there are millions of boys and girls who suffer conditions similar to slavery, it is a dire need of the hour to understand that these are humans with a name and an identity. They are entitled to a home, to education and to feel the love of a family. Therefore, besides creating awareness, there is a need for early intervention, an inquiry with the mother of the child and her feelings about parenting or the feelings of her husband, who will accompany her in this responsibility.
If thoughts of abandonment appear in the process of early intervention, a supportive environment could save the situation. Either reinvest in convincing the parent to look after the child or find an alternative arrangement for fostering the child. The child should not feel abandoned at any cost. There should be positivity around the child. It is highly important to carefully observe these abandoned children as they are a gift to be gratefully welcomed, fondly cherished and wisely protected.
(The writer is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and currently the mission secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that mirror life.)