Moratorium on the Crime of Child Abandonment Needed, Relook Section 317

1. I take the view that Section 317, particularly in baby dumping cases, is an oversimplistic approach to a complex problem. I am fully aware that the provision covers a child up to the age of twelve, which complicates the state of affairs as it brings to fore manifold socio-economic considerations. Without going into those factors, allow me to illustrate how the application of Section 317 is sufficiently complex in baby dumping cases. For these purposes we adopt the World Health Organisation’s definition of an infant i.e. a child less than one year of age.

2. I would like to state at the outset that I do not condone or promote baby dumping. What I would like to advocate is for government to adopt a compassionate approach in such cases.

3. Two days ago, a baby dumping incident occurred in Subang Jaya where a month old infant was found left at a laundromat at Subang Perdana. (Read more here: )

4.The baby is alive and is currently in the care of a public hospital. Our office will work together with the authorities to ensure the best outcome for the child.

5. I have since been informed by the police that the case is being investigated under Section 317 of the Penal Code, which reads:-
“Exposure and abandonment of a child under twelve years by parent or person having care of it 317. Whoever, being the father or mother of a child under the age of twelve years, or having the care of such child, exposes or leaves such child in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning such child, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both. Explanation—This section is not intended to prevent the trial of the offender for murder or culpable homicide, as the case may be, if the child dies in consequence of the exposure.”

6. I understand that the police are only performing their duties. We expect them to enforce the law. It is not the jurisdiction of the police to determine whether a law is obsolete or draconian.

7. It is, however, the duty of lawmakers to review such laws as knowledge, society and technology improves.

8. There are many factors when considering fault in a person when they chose to baby dump, I would only highlight three, which I observed from the case that took place yesterday, to demonstrate complexity:-

a. Where the baby is placed – we may say that it is quite different if the baby is left in a rubbish bin versus at a shop’s doorstep. The latter demonstrates an intention for the baby to be found, whereas the latter may demonstrate disregard (or does it?).

b. What the baby is left with – some parents leave the baby with something, which demonstrates some level of care. In our case the mum or dad left the baby with very little – an adults’ shirt, a headscarf, a pair of mittens and socks. This tells me that they
do not have much to go by to begin with as they cannot afford suitably sized clothes but that they are giving the baby the best they can. But even if the parent does not leave the baby with anything, does it mean they do not care? Or that they do not have
the resources to?

c. The age of the baby – you may say that it is quite different if a baby is dumped at birth versus if a baby is dumped a month or several months later. In the latter, you may say that the parents tried to do the best that they can but feel that the child is better off with someone else. But a parent who dumps a child at birth might have been mulling over whether they are able to provide during the gestation period.

9. What also underscores all these considerations is the fact that the first year of a child’s life is often the most stressful for parents, and even more so if they do not have support. A mum has to heal, learn to breastfeed, wash and care for the baby, and suffer from the lack of sleep. She may also be faced with postnatal blues, depression or even psychosis. A father would have to care for both the mum and child – which is equally stressful.

10. Now, the reasons that lead to ‘unwanted births’ are many. Rape, pregnancy out of wedlock, economic hardship, contraceptive failure are some of the many reasons. Some of which are within the person’s control, some of which are not. Again, complexity.

11. The effectiveness of Section 317 is called into question. Not many know that baby dumping is a crime to begin with and therefore do not address their minds to criminality as a consideration. In cases where a mum or dad baby dumps but later regrets doing so, they are unlikely to come forward to claim responsibility, knowing that they will be punished instead. Should a mum or dad who baby dumps be discovered and Section 317 applied – are we really achieve the objective of ensuring the child’s best interest with the parents in jail? Isn’t the alternative of supporting the parents socioeconomically and allowing the child
to live with the parents a more desirable outcome?

12. Instead of punitive measures, a compassionate system would focus on addressing the underlying issues that lead to baby dumping. This includes providing comprehensive sex education, access to reproductive health services, and support for young parents who may be facing challenges in caring for their children. Additionally, there should be increased efforts to raise awareness about adoption and safe surrender options for parents who are
unable to care for their children.

13. Several countries have implemented successful policies and programs aimed at addressing the issue of baby dumping in a compassionate manner. For example, in Sweden, the government provides extensive support and resources for young parents,
including subsidised childcare, parental leave, and counseling services. This approach has been effective in reducing the incidence of baby dumping and ensuring the well-being of
both children and parents.

14. Similarly, countries like Canada and the United States have implemented safe haven laws, which allow parents to safely surrender their newborns to designated locations without fear
of prosecution. These laws are accompanied by public awareness campaigns and support services to ensure that parents are aware of their options and can make informed decisions.

15. As a mother with a two-year-old and who has experienced baby blues, we can and should create a society that supports and uplifts all its members, especially those who are most vulnerable. It is time to prioritise empathy and understanding in our approach to this issue and ensure that every child is given the opportunity to thrive in a loving and supportive environment.

16. In short, the act of baby dumping is often a result of complex social, economic, and psychological factors. Many individuals who resort to this desperate act do so out of fear, desperation, and a lack of support. Criminalising such behaviour only further stigmatises and marginalises those who are already vulnerable, making it less likely for them to seek help or support.

17. While the intention behind this law may have been to deter such tragic incidents, its implementation has not effectively addressed the root causes nor provided adequate support for those in need. Therefore, I strongly advocate for a moratorium over Section 317 for baby dumping cases while government explores the development of a more compassionate system that deals with the complexity behind baby dumping and prioritises support and rehabilitation for those involved.

Michelle Ng
ADUN Subang Jaya
6 March 2024