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CASABLANCA, Morocco: Morocco is seeing an alarming rise in the number of babies abandoned by single mothers, activists said yesterday, blaming social prejudice and outdated legislation for the problem.
“According to the information we have gathered, from people who take care of abandoned children born outside marriage, the numbers are getting much worse,” said Omar Kindi, organiser of a conference on violence and discrimination against single mothers and children.
The existing statistics were bad enough. According to a study carried out by Insaf, an NGO that supports women and children in distress, of which Kindi is the president, 27,200 young women gave birth outside marriage in 2009, with a total of 8,760 babies abandoned.
That equates to 24 babies per day on an average.
Morocco has witnessed a population boom and rapid urbanisation in recent decades, leading to ever-growing levels of interaction between single men and women in the relatively conservative Muslim country.
Kindi and other activists argue that attitudes and legislation have failed to keep pace with social change, as starkly illustrated by Article 490 of the penal code according to which extra-marital physical relations are punishable by up to a year in jail.
Doctors in public maternity hospitals may refuse to treat pregnant young women who are not married, Kindi said, even if they are victims of rape by their employers.
“One of the major problems... is the total disengagement of the state,” Kindi said. Aicha Echanne, another speaker at the Casablanca conference, said the “mentality of society” and the lack of support for single mothers, who are often aggressively treated by officials, were driving factors behind new-born children being abandoned.
“We need to shake Moroccan society, and to put pressure on the state, on parliament, to bring about change,” said Echanne, who heads the Association of Women’s Solidarity.
“From 1990 to 2009, 23,000 babies were buried in cemeteries in Casablanca (Morocco’s largest city). That gives you an idea that our children are being thrown away. They get eaten by dogs or are buried.”
“It is not normal, from a humanitarian point of view, to accept this type of thing,” she added.
As well as changing the law, activists emphasise the need for sexual education in Morocco to avoid unwanted pregnancy, with more than 60 percent of single mothers under 26 years old, according to Insaf, and many of them illiterate.