NAIROBI, November 3 – Eleven months ago, a woman gave birth to a baby boy and immediately dumped it into a pit latrine near Hardy police station in Karen.
On hearing the commotion, neighbours ran to the infant’s rescue and picked it up from the toilet. They also apprehended his mother.
Baby Alice, who was named after his mother was then rushed to Nairobi Women’s Hospital before he was transferred to Kenyatta National hospital (KNH).
When I visited KNH 11 months later, the handsome toddler was lying on his cot in the hospital ward, which has become a home to him. His innocent look only betrays the child’s longing for parental love.
As I walk away to see the other babies in this ward-cum-children’s home, young Alice starts crying hysterically as if demanding to be held. I did.
In this particular ward, there are seven other babies all in their separate cots, each with a different.
Ben Nyakundi, a Senior Social Worker at the hospital says they receive about five neglected babies per month.
“Most of them come as unknown children ranging from two weeks old up to about two years old. Some of them were rescued from the parks; another one was rescued from a pit latrine, others were abandoned within the institution and there are those who were left in the wards after delivery where the mothers took off without leaving any contact behind,” he informs.
The hospital, which is currently holding close to 30 abandoned babies names the children based on the circumstances under which they were booked in.
“There is Baby Pentagon who was admitted during the launch of ODM pentagon members, and there is Baby Kwamboka who is a boy named after the mother who took off and left him at the hospital,” says Mr Nyakundi.
“We later realised that the information the mother had given for the hospital records was false so it must have been pre-planned.”
However when the children are adopted, they are given other names.
Two months ago, there were 35 neglected babies in the hospital but 10 of them have been placed in different children homes within Nairobi.
“Unfortunately most homes come specifically for children below six months of age and they prefer baby girls although 85 percent are boys,” he says.
This preference for girls, Mr Nyakundi adds, could be because of our social system which does not allow girls to inherit their parents’ property.
However, there are some special cases where children over 10 years of age are deserted.
Mr Nyakundi adds that the children are placed in orphan homes depending on their medical report.
“Once a baby is abandoned, we report to the police station, then carry out a medical report of the baby after which we report to the children’s department to give authority for the baby to be placed in a home,” he informs.
The medical report is the one that enables the children’s department to make a decision on where the baby should be placed.
“Those babies who are not clinically stable are taken to homes that offer services and have facilities for their condition,” Mr Nyakundi states.
Moses is 12-years-old and suffers a sporadic cerebral condition. Police brought him to the hospital two years ago. The young boy says he comes from Murang’a and even speaks of a brother called John Mwangi with whom they used to go to school together. He then says his mother is called Njeri.
A nurse at KNH says sometimes Moses cries all day, calling for his mother.
Mr Nyakundi says it is difficult to place children with special needs like cerebral palsy in homes and suggests that the government should invest more in children homes.
“It is expensive taking care of these children especially the infants. It costs us up to
Sh10, 000 to feed one baby per month,” he says explaining that what makes it expensive is the formula feed.
He informs that there are different categories of abandoned babies. There are those whose parents die at birth and no one comes to claim them. In this category they are placed in children homes but are not given up for adoption.
The second category is where a mother develops a mental illness that comes after delivery; these are also placed in homes awaiting the mother’s condition to stabilise and are also not given for adoption.
There are those who are brought in the hospital as abandoned, others are abandoned in the hospital after delivery. These are placed in different homes based on their clinical condition and are offered for adoption.
“However it is important to note that the hospital does not offer adoption services,” Mr Nyakundi emphasises.
He also informs that the children are kept in a common ward so long as none of them suffers a contagious disease.
Mary Mjomba, Nurse-in-Charge says the hospital is not a good environment for the children to grow in because it compromises on them developing their social skills.
“These are healthy children who are put in a hospital set up, an environment where we put sick children and they are always at risk of disease infection by incoming patients,” she says.
“You find that they also miss parental love and again the child needs to be somewhere they can get sunshine and walk outside but here they are within the building all the time,” Mrs Mjomba says.