Mar 2016 2nd Edition

Child abandonment is a criminal offence

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
Many people don’t know that abandoning a baby does not only have psychological effects on a child and the parent, but also goes against the law.

Child abandonment is when a parent, guardian or person in charge of a child deserts a child without any regard for its physical health, safety or welfare. According to the department, 378 babies were abandoned at hospitals across Gauteng from 2013 to 2015.

The department said the reasons for child abandonment are, amongst others, unwanted pregnancy, lack of family support, financial constraints due to unemployment, children deserted by fathers, fear of parents, resentment towards the baby and teenage pregnancy. When a baby is abandoned hospital social workers work with various organisations and the Department of Social Development to place the child in a home or adoption agency.

“In order to address this we ensure that parents are identified and contact details are confirmed when they present for child birth. We conduct ongoing educational talks about contraceptives and the choice of termination of pregnancy in our communities. We refer expecting mothers to social workers to discuss alternative options in case they do not want to keep the baby,” said Gauteng Health MEC Qeduni Mahlangu.

The Children’s Act states that a child has been abandoned if the parent, guardian or caregiver has deserted the child for no apparent reason and there is no contact with the parent, guardian or caregiver for at least three months.


Mothers who cannot look after their babies do have options. They can:  

  • Apply for a Child Support Grant, which helps parents care for their children.
  • Contact a social worker to assist to place the child in foster care or find adoptive parents.

Placement in foster care is temporary, while adoption is a permanent placement.

The Department of Social Development said that if there is no one available to foster or adopt the child, he or she may be placed in a child and youth care centre to receive residential care and a range of therapeutic programmes, education and healthcare.

A delay in any action or decision to be taken in the best interest of the child must be avoided as far as possible. A child’s physical and emotional security should always be taken into account.

The Department of Social Development said that child abandonment is a criminal offence and a person who abandons a child after birth may be charged with a criminal offence and be tried in a court of law.

Community members must report all cases of child abandonment to the nearest police station, child protection organisation or social worker to investigate the circumstances and to ensure placement of the child in question.

For more information, contact the Department of Social Development on 012 312 7586 or 012 3127369.


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