On 7th January 2020, a baby was found in a rubbish chute bin in Bedok North.
Growing up, my mother used to joke that my siblings and I were picked up from the rubbish bin. This joke would be funny, until it hits too close to home. Just like how the government deals with things that are hard to regulate, a desperate mother decided to do the same and rid their baby in true Singaporean fashion. The new-born was found by two Bangladeshi workers who heard soft cries coming from the rubbish chute bin, and thought it was from a discarded toy doll. After opening the bin, the two men were taken aback as they saw a moist and bloody plastic bag moving.
Like everyone who has learned of this incident, my heart goes out to the abandoned baby boy. It’s comforting to know that there are offers to adopt this baby. In what I like to call The Singaporean Condition, a handful of Singaporeans have thoroughly condemned the baby’s biological mother negatively. Of course, there’s no denying that leaving a newborn in a bin is not the best place to abandon a baby. But until the police reveal the information of the birth mother, we can only speculate the circumstances behind the abandonment.
Imagine the desperation of the birth mother’s situation—is she an underaged teen who didn’t want her partner to be prosecuted with statutory rape? A cash-strapped foreign worker who could not afford an abortion? Or perhaps the very rare case of being pregnant and not knowing till they were in labour? Harsh as it may be, in some cases, some may think it a cheaper option to let the baby die than to go for an expensive procedure that not everyone can afford. The question thus remains: would you be able to come to terms with bringing a child up in poor living standards and quell whatever moral or ethical standards you have?
Either way, I write this to explore the different options one can do in Singapore if they don’t want their baby, for whatever circumstances life throws at you. Hopefully, articles such as these would prevent another newborn from being found in a rubbish bin at a time when their life should rightfully be celebrated, not discarded.
When thinking of unwanted pregnancy, the first thing to cross my mind would be to terminate it as early as possible. Under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is legal in Singapore as long as it takes place within the first 24 weeks (6 months) of the pregnancy. In our island-city state, there is no age limit for those who wish to have an abortion.
There are specificities on who can get an abortion in Singapore, obviously to prevent tourists from coming to Singapore just to get an abortion. Other than the surgical abortions that people are familiar with, medical abortions are an option for those who are pregnant for less than eight weeks. In Singapore, a woman getting an abortion, regardless of age, must go for mandatory counselling sessions before the procedure. After the counselling session, should the termination proceed, a 48-hour waiting period must be observed before the abortion. This is to ensure that the pregnant woman is absolutely confident of her decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Abortions in Singapore are not cheap. There are both private and public options and can range from S$431 to about S$3000. Those with Medisave can use up to S$1050 for their procedure. In terms of support, other than aware, Babes is a teen pregnancy crisis organisation that provides resources and support regardless of how they choose to deal with the pregnancy.
I was not aware of the popularity of fostering children prior to research on this topic. The difference between fostering and adopting is that the former consists of temporary care, where there would be a chance that the child would eventually be returned to their biological parents while the latter is of a more permanent situation, in which the child’s custody would be legally transferred to the adoptive parent or parents.
Children in foster care, as described by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), are those who might have been abused or neglected or are unable to be cared for by their biological parents. As stated on the ministry’s website, the ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite the child with their natural parents.
Singapore being Singapore, of course, I could not readily find any information on leaving your child in foster care on the internet. Most things on fostering pointed me to the other end of the spectrum, how to be a foster parent, what the process of fostering is like and heroic stories on the kind souls who have opened their home to these children.
With the obvious lack of information available online, I made a call to the fostering department of MSF to ask how one can put their baby in foster care. The lady who answered my call was very kind and helpful, and with her help, I managed to get a better understanding of the fostering process in Singapore.
First and foremost, I was told that everything is assessed on a case by case situation—every situation is different. So I set the scenario: I am a young mother who cannot afford to raise my baby, who can I go to and what can I do?
The answer—to get my situation looked at by Child Protective Services. The nice lady on the phone said that given the circumstances I provided, I would first be referred for a counselling session to understand my financial capabilities and familial support system better. The ultimate goal was not to separate the baby from its mother.
What happens after counselling remains unclear.
I first made a call to a Child Protection Service Centre, which redirected me back to the fostering department of MSF. After speaking to the department I was asked to call the Child Protective Services Helpline. The helpline then asked me to speak to the fostering department again, even after I mentioned that I had been redirected before. Given the gravity of the situation, there should be a clearer way of finding out what happens after counselling, but sadly that is not the case.
As someone who can barely take care of herself, I genuinely respect the people who open up their home (and heart) to foster children. I cannot imagine how emotionally taxing it can be when one has to return the child to their biological parents eventually. One truly must possess a certain kind of selflessness to be able to care for children in the foster system knowing that they will probably arrive emotionally beaten and battered to you. To be able to give care and love to one who so desperately needs it is absolutely powerful.
Adoption is the permanent option of giving up all legal rights of your baby. And just like fostering, there’s barely any ready information online on how to put up your baby for adoption.
Once again, I made a call to MSF, but this time, to the adoption department. Jamie, the artificial intelligence (AI) voice answered my call. The adoption hotline must have quite the volume of calls for MSF to have an automated response be their first line of answering. When I asked Jamie my first question “How do I put my child up for adoption?” I was informed of the legal definition of putting a child up for adoption followed by the process.
This is how you can put your child up for adoption: approach a Family Service Centre (FSC) or any accredited agencies. An alternative is to put your baby with adoption agencies. When asked if one could put their child in an orphanage, the AI could not answer my question, and I was redirected to a customer service officer.
The officer told me to go through the FSC route instead of placing a baby in an orphanage. When at a FSC, one would be advised on the procedure of how to give up their child, then the child would first be put under state care until they are adopted. I was told that all adoptions in Singapore are regulated under MSF regardless of who you communicate with— an adoption agency or directly with the ministry.
From lurking on Singaporean single mother forums, there seems to be a more negative attitude towards giving your baby up for adoption, citing regret and how the child might grow up having abandonment issues. While all valid concerns, I believe that one must really be pushed to desperation to consider giving up their baby.
Since we are already on this topic of adoption, I decided to ask what the difference was between an orphanage and a home.
An orphanage is for children who were neglected by their parents or live in an unconducive environment and for various other reasons that the officer did not divulge. When asked if these homes were different from fostering, I was told “yes”. The officer continued to explain that some of these homes also double up as shelter homes. Shelter homes are temporary stays for those whose parents might have passed or are incarcerated. Examples of shelter homes include Boys’ Town and Hope House.
The officer clarified that the government does not use the term ‘orphanages’ and refer to the children who are put up for adoption as being under MSF state care. Given Singapore’s nature, the term was probably not used because of the stigma associated with the word.
Internationally, Singapore fares pretty well in terms of options available. Here are some other ways on how women give up their babies around the world. A baby hatch is a place where mothers can anonymously abandon their babies knowing that they will be safe and cared for. More than twenty countries around the world have baby hatches, some countries include Malaysia, India, Japan and China.
In Europe, there are two different types of processes that allow women to leave their child up for adoption right after birth in the hospital. Anonymous birth is where the mother gives birth without disclosing her identity. Confidential birth is when her identity is registered but not disclosed.
Both processes were created to curb infanticide.
In France, a child given birth anonymously is called “Childbirth under X”. This process is interesting as a mother may claim her child back if she changes her mind within two months after childbirth. If she does reclaim her child, she would be offered support by the state for three years.
In Germany, confidential births would involve the mother giving birth in a hospital, after the birth, the child would be in state care until adoption. What makes German confidential births stand out is that under the law once the child turns sixteen, they would be given their biological mother’s contact information, should the child choose to contact her. So, confidential births in Germany are not entirely confidential I would say.
If you’re a mother who read this article to explore the different options available to you, I genuinely hope that I’ve provided more insight into the different processes in Singapore. With this article, I also wanted to encourage more sympathy and kindness amongst others who may have to witness those close to them go through the painful act of parting with their baby. Desperate people do desperate things, the least we can do is to provide help and support for them.
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