Dubai: A box placed near a garbage container drew the attention of passers-by. Little did they know what was inside it — a baby had been abandoned.
The infant was taken to Al Hira Police Station and then admitted to Al Qasimi Hospital for a check-up. Police said they received a phone call from a man a few hours after the baby was found. He said he knew the mother and where she was staying.
A few hours later police arrested the Indonesian mother, who admitted that she had abandoned her two-day-old baby in Tala'a area of Sharjah.
The mother, who works as a housemaid, was taken to hospital for treatment because she was suffering from complications after delivery of her child.
The woman told police that she did not know what to do with the baby as she was not married. Not only was she afraid of going to jail, but also feared a backlash from her family back home.
Sent to jail
The mother and baby were sent to Central Jail. In such cases, the woman and her partner face charges of adultery, which carries a sentence of one year in prison followed by deportation.
The incident in May was one of several this year. In March, three babies were abandoned in Sharjah. The body of a four-month-old girl was found by Sharjah Police in Al Khan area near a seafood restaurant. A child was found at Al Faisal mosque and then a 16-month-old boy was later found abandoned in a toilet at Al Sahabah mosque. The two infants were found alive and were placed in the custody of the Social Services Department which takes care of such children.
Women and their partners most often abandon their illegitimate babies to escape punishment and imprisonment. Sometimes married couples abandon their babies due to poverty.
Brigadier Ali Abdullah Alwan, Ajman Police Chief, said abandoned children are kept in Khalifa Hospital and GMC Hospital in Ajman.
"Each year we get 10 to 12 such cases in Ajman," he said. They are usually abandoned in public places so they can be easily found.
He said it is very difficult to trace parents of an abandoned child. "Once we caught a mother who abandoned her baby and sent her to jail," he said.
Brigadier Alwan said that when an abandoned child is found, the case is investigated by police and then transferred to the public prosecutor.
Finding a family
Police and the public prosecutor follow up the cases of abandoned children. He said many people approach the authorities wanting to take care of an abandoned baby.
"It has never happened that a child has not found a family. All of them have someone to take care of them," he said.
When a child is abandoned, police question private clinics in the emirate to find out if the delivery took place there. In some cases a woman gives birth after producing fake identification papers. She flees the hospital soon after, leaving the baby behind.
As police cannot identify the biological parents, they are registered as "unknown babies" till they are given to families.
Brigadier Alwan said it is difficult to determine the nationality of the babies because they are too young to show any specific facial features.
"Sniffer dogs are usually taken to the site where the baby was found in the hope of finding the mother and reuniting her with her baby," he said.
Dr Khalifa Al Sha'ali, lawyer and consultant, said in the UAE giving birth outside marriage is forbidden.
Sharia prohibits having children outside wedlock. For Muslims, based on an understanding of the Quran and Hadith, sexual relations are restricted between a wife and husband.
"There are cases where mothers give up their babies because they are very poor. They want to sell their newborns to enable others in the family to survive. Abandoning children is almost like murdering them, so we treat these cases very seriously," Al Sha'ali said.
Dr Adel Khamis, lawyer of Al Itizan consultant and advocate and a lecturer at Ajman University for Science and Technology, said from his experience as a former Sharjah police official, babies are abandoned "every now and then".
"Some babies used to be dumped in the garbage container or near it. Some were kept in boxes near mosques or on a step of a house. Some of them near a police station," he said.
He said the parents of the babies were rarely found. The children used to be handed to police and then to Al Qasimi Hospital.
"There is no dearth of families willing to take care of these abandoned newborns. The authorities conduct thorough investigations before giving them to a family," he said.
The family should be capable of taking care of the child and raising the baby in a healthy environment. Abandoned newborns are given to Emiratis only. The family which sponsors them should have obtained approval from the local authorities concerned to sponsor a baby," he said. The Ministry of Social Affairs guides couples wanting to take care of these babies on how to get custody.
There is an article in the naturalisation law regarding giving nationality to an abandoned child, Khamis said.
People who raise an abandoned baby never tell others that the child was dumped by its parents. They raise the baby normally. "We know some families who have taken care of an abandoned baby, but have never disclosed the matter to others," he said.
A spokesman from the Sharjah Social Welfare Department said children are given a name and given to a UAE family to sponsor them if they obtain approval from the authorities.
Given to Emiratis
All abandoned children in the emirate are sent to Al Qasimi Hospital. They are then transferred to the social services department, which takes care of them and arranges for them to be given to Emirati families.
As a Muslim country, the UAE follows the Sharia when a child is given to a family to be looked after.
Afra Al Basti, CEO of Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said in Islam orphaned and abandoned children have a special position in society. Caring for an abandoned child is considered a good deed.
Abandoned children in Dubai are taken to a special ward at Al Wasl Hospital before being given to Emirati families.
She said the country focuses on children and their rights and issues. A new law will soon take effect which will specify rules involving abandoned children and their care.
Mariam Al Roumi, Minister of Social Affairs, earlier announced it will open "Tala" which means young palm tree in Umm Al Quwain which will be the home of abandoned children and children who suffer abuse.
The home will be run under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs and it will receive abandoned babies from all over the country who will be looked after till they are given to families.
Many of the children abandoned by their parents are born out of wedlock, which is often the reason for their abandonment. Couples fearing the consequences of their actions if they are discovered by the authorities choose to wash their hands of their newborns to avoid facing persecution. Bassma Al Jandaly looks into the fate of abandoned children in the UAE.
Child out of wedlock
A woman who had a baby outside wedlock wants to go home with her baby, but is scared of punishment.
The woman, who used to live with her boyfriend in Abu Dhabi, gave birth to a baby girl.
"I gave birth at home. My boyfriend left the country. My baby girl is now two years old.
"I love the baby and I cannot live without her. I kept her with me. Now I want to go back to my country but I have no clue on how I can take the baby with me," the mother said.
Officials said the mother should go to police and tell them that she had a baby outside wedlock.
"A DNA test will be done. If it is proven it is her baby, the child will be issued an outpass from her embassy or consulate to leave the country," the official said.
The official said the woman will have to spend some time in jail for adultery.
"But this is her only way to take the baby out with her," he said.
Draft law under way
Main points of a federal draft law on taking care of a child of unknown parents being prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs as stipulated by a cabinet decision issued in October 2008.
Requirement for the family wanting to take care of an abandoned child:
- Emirati and living in the UAE.
- Must be Muslim.
- The husband and wife must be above 25 years old.
- Preference is given to families who do not have children.
- The family must show evidence of their capabilities of raising the child on economic, social and psychological levels.
- The family must also provide a medical certificate which proves that they are free of any infectious diseases as well as a certificate of good conduct.
- The family must undertake that it will treat the child as a member of the family and take good care of him/her.
Commitments that must be made by the foster family as per the draft law:
- Need to inform the authorities concerned of any change of address.
- Must not give the child to any other family, even temporarily.
- Must clarify reasons with the authorities concerned if the family wants to give up custody of the child.
- Must not inform the child of the truth of his parentage unless it is under the supervision and in the presence of representatives from the authorities concerned (children's shelters and orphanages).
- October 25, 2009: A newborn baby is found dead at the bottom of a ventilation shaft in a building in Sharjah
- June 4: A woman abandons a one-and-a-half-year-old child at the Union Cooperative Society supermarket in Hatta
- May 18: A toddler is found abandoned in the early hours in Merasheed area of Fujairah
- May 12: An abandoned newborn baby boy is found near a garbage container in Al Tala'a area, Sharjah
- March 16: A four-month-old-girl is found in Al Khan area near a seafood restaurant in Sharjah
- September 28, 2008: An eight-day-old baby is found abandoned in an elevator at Al Nahda residential building in Sharjah
- June 12: An abandoned newborn baby girl is found in the women's prayer area of a mosque in Ras Al Khaimah
- May 15: A baby girl believed to be three weeks old is left alone in a park on Electra Street
- October 1, 2006: A three-month-old baby boy is found abandoned on one of the roads in Sharjah
- December 30, 2005: A UAE national family in Ras Al Khaimah found an abandoned newborn boy at their doorstep