Connect with us


The plight of abandoned children



MASERU – A mother left her one-and-a-half year old toddler alone in a locked house with nothing to feed on but a bottle of water.

The village chief and angry neighbours found the child eating his own faeces in a dilapidated rented house on the outskirts of Maseru city.

The woman’s other children aged 15, eight and four years old had also scattered throughout the village.

The four-year-old was found playing in the village after being reported missing by the eight-year-old sibling.

As for the mother, she was found at a beerhouse, drunk.

The chief took her to the police and two weeks ago she was charged at the Maseru magistrate’s court with wrongful, unlawful and intentional “abuse, neglect, abandon(ment) or expos(ure)” of her four children “in a manner likely to cause the children physical, psychological, or emotional injury by leaving them alone unattended”.

The 37-year-old mother, pregnant with a fifth child, pleaded guilty to the charges and faced two years imprisonment.

Seeking her imprisonment, the crown said “it is a growing trend nowadays where a parent neglects their children or leaves them with other children as if it is alright”.

“Such behaviour has to be stopped with immediate effect and our courts have to help us put this under control,” the crown argued.

“No ordinary mother would act as the accused does,” the crown said, adding: “She was found drinking beer by the police while her child ate faeces.”

“Therefore, the fine of M2 000 or two months imprisonment is not a solution. It is too short to rehabilitate her into being a good mother to her children. It is not going to help these children either if (they are) reunited with their mother after two months.”

In another case earlier in September, a 19-year-old woman from a rural part of Maseru was sentenced to five-years in jail without the option of a fine.

The woman, the Maseru magistrate’s court found, left her one-year old toddler alone in a house without food and warm clothes for some days between June 19 and 22 this year.

She pleaded guilty to “unlawfully abusing, neglecting, abandoning or exposing the said child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury or causes or permits the child to be abused, neglected, abandoned or exposed”.

Following her arrest, the child was placed in an alternative care, which is the last resort for the Ministry of Social Development.

Section 44 (1) of the Children Protection and Welfare Act states that a person who abuses, neglects, abandons or exposes a child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury or causes commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M2 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two months or both.

The Act further states that “a parent or guardian or other person legally obliged to maintain a child shall be deemed to have neglected the child in a manner likely to cause the child physical, psychological or emotional injury if he fails to provide adequate food, clothing, medical treatment, lodging, care, guidance and protection to the child.”

The Act provides that “a child has a right to live with his parents and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with his parents shall…lead to significant harm to the child”.

It also states that a child shall not be subjected to any cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual development.

The same law states that the government should provide “special protection for a child deprived of family environment and ensure that appropriate alternative family care or institutional placement is available in such cases”.

The Act says a child is in need of care and protection if they have been or there is substantial risk that the child will be physically, psychologically or emotionally injured or sexually abused by the parent or guardian or a member of the extended family or any other person.

The Act provides that a police officer, the Department of Social Welfare, a chief or member of the community who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child and place him in a place of safety.

It is the role of the state, through its agencies, to ensure the supervision of the safety, well-being and development of any child placed in alternative care and the regular review of the appropriateness of the care arrangement provided.

Statistics from the Social Development Ministry show that 83 children were found neglected countrywide from April to August this year.

Some of these children were taken to care facilities, while others were placed with their relatives.

Many other cases go unreported. Maseru, for example, has dozens of children roaming the streets, scavenging for food in dustbins and living in dirty, abandoned houses.

The Ministry of Social Development’s Director of Child Protection, Mookho Motheo-Lekhanya, defined child abandonment as when a parent dumps a child while neglect is failure for parents to carry out their responsibilities. However, she said they are interlinked.

She said the ministry is mandated to intervene when a parent feels burdened either with parental skills or psychosocial support.

“We have child grant programmes as a means of curbing these issues. And it can only be granted if such a child or family qualifies and some issues don’t require monetary support but psychosocial support,” she said.

She said it is lawful for a parent to opt for adoption if they are not coping with keeping a child “but we don’t encourage it because every child has a right to grow within a family setting”.

“We counsel them along with their families before a child can be adopted to ensure they understand the procedure to avoid abandonment or negligence.”

The Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, said child abandonment and negligence cases are widespread.

“Children are supposed to be left under the care of an old person,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

He said public sensitisation on such issues is vital for all stakeholders.

“We have to be proactive. This has to be done regularly so that even those who see them happening can report such cases.”

The Lesotho Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN)’s Democracy and Human Rights Commission Coordinator, Advocate Lebohang Leeu, said parents should take their responsibilities to raise their children seriously.

She said the child protection law aims to protect and promote children’s welfare and rights.

She said child support should not be about material things only “as it takes a whole family to raise a child”.

“Children need love and maintenance from both parents,” she said.

Advocate Leeu admitted that it is difficult to trace irresponsible parents who leave the country and abandon their children in the process.

’Maleeto Malataliana, a Clinical Psychologist at MM Psychological Services, said there are two different, though equally devastating, ways a child can be abandoned – physically and emotionally.

She said physical abandonment occurs when one or more of the child’s primary caregivers disappear from the child’s life. This may happen due to death or divorce.

Sometimes parents walk away because they cannot handle the responsibility and emotional strain of caring for a young child.

She said emotional abandonment occurs when a caregiver is present but is completely emotionally unavailable.

“Causes of emotional abandonment include mental illness, substance abuse, and caregivers selfishly deciding to put their needs before those of the needs of the child,” Malataliana said.

“Abandonment in any form can lead to serious psychological problems. Abandonment issues involve a deep fear of being hurt, rejected or abandoned,” she said.

Malataliana said fear of abandonment is a form of anxiety that often develops in response to specific painful or traumatic experiences like childhood abuse, neglect, or the loss of a loved one.

She said abandonment issues that begin in childhood are almost always the result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACE’s), which describe different types of stressful and traumatic experiences.

In children, she said abandonment issues often show up as anxiety, especially when separating from a caregiver.

“Children with abandonment issues may be more easily upset and often have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may exhibit negative attention-seeking behaviours and have outbursts or tantrums,” said Malataliana.

They can either demonstrate avoidant or antisocial behaviours, withdrawing from peers, or bullying others, she said.

They may also be either fearful of adults or overly trusting, developing quick dependencies.

One common effect of childhood abandonment, she said, is low self-esteem.

“The child may believe that she was abandoned because she did something wrong or because she simply was not good enough to live up to her parents’ standards. The child with low self-esteem often tries to be extra well behaved,” said Malataliana.

They may become perfectionists or seek to validate their self-worth with achievements. If they fail to reach their often unrealistic goals, they may become depressed or even suicidal, she said.

“This child is often easy prey for pedophiles and other abusers because they will do almost anything to please the people who are important to them,” she said.

The Acting Minister of Social Development, Keketso Sello, said about 1 891 calls depicting various types of emergencies for children have been received from July 2021 to June 2022.

Sello said this during the relaunch of the Lesotho Child Helpline in June 2022.

Of these cases, child neglect ranks highest followed by sexual offences and economic related matters, Sello said.

’Mapule Motsopa

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved