Whole Morocco is leading the Arab world in many aspects of social reform, the problems of the increasing numbers of abandoned babies and the hurdles to adoption, are far from being addressed in a mature manner.
In fact, at a time when there is a tremendous need for care of abandoned infants, Moroccan Justice Minister Mustafa Ramid has moved in the opposite direction by issuing a moratorium on international adoptions of Moroccan children. Ramid's justification of his decision with concerns that children adopted abroad will not be brought up to respect their culture, tradition and religion ignores the desperate need to find homes for abandoned children.
The conditions in orphanages and in homes for pregnant single girls have long been criticised as being far below international standards. Child protection experts are quick to point out that adoption reform that allows for international adoption is long overdue. While Mustafa Ramid's concerns are shared by some, overall concern for child health and welfare should take precedent over religious views.
To change the mentality and the system will take much debate, but in the meantime the problem of abandoned children will not go away. In a disturbing article written by Simon Martelli for AFP, the problem is put into stark perspective.
The article points out that Morocco is seeing an alarming rise in the number of babies abandoned by single mothers.
"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 average. Anecdotal accounts of the fate of some of these babies are particularly disturbing.
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 sex is punishable by up to a year in jail.
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). 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.
But with an Islamist-led government in power since January, some are doubtful about the prospects of any such initiatives.
Read the full AFP article here: Surge in number of babies abandoned in Morocco