No one to turn to, they kill babies

Women with unplanned pregnancies often have no one to turn to…

In Senegal, women who become pregnant outside of marriage – while their husbands are abroad – commonly kill their babies out of fear and shame.

Husbands’ absence is one of many factors contributing to infanticide in Senegal, where many young women with unwanted pregnancies see eliminating the child as their only option, authorities and researchers say.

Interestingly, abortion is illegal in Senegal and clandestine abortion is also common.

Poverty, sexual promiscuity and ignorance about contraception are other factors, but the common thread is severe shame around unplanned pregnancy particularly by extramarital relations, says Aly Khoudia Diao, a sociologist from capital Dakar.

“Infanticide has become the antidote to illicit affairs [that result in pregnancy] – to avoid gossip and shame to the family and to hide infidelity, especially when the woman is bound by marriage,” Diao says.

In the city of Louga, capital of Louga region 200 km north of Dakar, at least two babies are known to have been killed by their mothers since October 2009, with five cases of infanticide registered in 2008.

These infanticides are linked to emigration. The men leave their wives – who are very young – for two, five, 10 years.

One Louga woman recently charged with the crime is married to a man living abroad. She did not want anyone to ever see the child, which is why she threw the body into a well.

And disturbingly, infants’ bodies have turned up in wells and in the streets; some are buried.

More than 20,000 men from Louga city – or 10 per cent of the population – live in Europe or the US. Six in 10 youths remaining are unemployed, and women make up 80 per cent of the population.

Diao estimates from his research that 30 to 40 per cent of women with unwanted pregnancies commit infanticide. “It is a worrying statistic, and it’s growing,” he says.

“Five to 10 per cent of these are linked to emigration,” he says. “Sex is a physiological need. Some of these women marry quite young and sooner or later they will be pursued by other men. And in a moment of weakness they commit adultery.”

These girls submit to the social pressure, the fear of shaming the family. They have no place to go to talk about their situation; they are alone in their misfortune.

Diao says many young women start wearing ample clothing and withdraw from friends and family once the pregnancy starts to show. Some move to another locality, where at least one relative is aware of the situation.

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