CHILD ABANDONMENT PREVENTION AND CRISIS PREGNANCY SUPPORT SERVICES: MOTHER’S HEART CAMBODIA
Mother’s Heart was established in response to the absence of crisis pregnancy services in Cambodia, which resulted in women who faced a crisis pregnancy and who are without support networks with limited options other than unsafe abortion or abandoning their newborn babies.
Women in Cambodia face crisis pregnancies for many different reasons including abandonment, rape, incest and trafficking. Whatever the circumstances, unplanned pregnancies are often a source of shame not only for women but also for their families.
This shame often results in rejection by immediate and extended family and leaves women isolated, unable to return home, and without financial and emotional support during their pregnancy.
Mother’s Heart was the first crisis pregnancy program established in Cambodia to help empower these women with choices and to prevent child abandonment and the resulting institutionalisation of infants. The women that access Mother’s Heart services do not have the support of a partner or family and often have faced instances of exploitation, sexual assault, gender-based violence or mental illness.
MOTHERS HEART PROVIDES
Emergency temporary accommodation
Access to general health care
Antenatal and post natal medical support
Referrals to appropriate vocational training and job options
Child care services for clients
Formula for babies once their mothers return to work
Mothers Heart advocates for family-based care for every child. If a mother cannot take care of the child then Mother’s Heart facilitates kinship care or foster care through Kinnected’s family-based care project Children in Families.
Case Study: Konika
Like many young rural women, Konika arrived in Phnom Penh at the age of thirteen to work as a domestic servant in the home of a distant relative. Like many Cambodian girls from poor families, Konika was expected to help with the family income so that her siblings could have a chance at education. Whist in Phnom Penh however, Konika was sexually assaulted by a relative.
For Konika this was equivalent to personal failure. Unmarried and now deemed ‘impure’ she felt that she had lost her social status and value. This scenario is a common entry point into the sex industry.
Konika ran away and began work in Phnom Penh’s red light area. Fellow sex workers helped her out by getting her started on yama, a euphoric methamphetamine that makes you more productive and helps you cope with unpleasant clients and long hours. It is also chronically addictive, suppresses appetite and withdrawal induces severe depression.
Konika’s life became a pursuit of money to feed her habit and support her boyfriend.
In and out of NGOs, different work places, and women’s shelters, Konika could cling to nothing strong enough to help her fight addiction and all that goes with life in sex work.
It was when she found out she was four months pregnant that she began to seriously consider change as now she had someone to live for. Konika found a shelter, returned to work, and connected with Mother’s Heart where she received counselling and support services.
As soon as Konika saw her baby, she was changed. A tiny, utterly dependent baby provided the way for Konika to trust, accept love and open up to Mother’s Heart staff. She came to see how others had tried to help her and that she was receiving true unconditional support.
Drug use had impaired Konika’s memory and comprehension. Mother’s Heart found an NGO who graciously offered a trial period of vocational training in the hope that Konika could understand instructions and complete tasks. She was successful. She passed her trial period and is now in full time training.
Konika has been transformed. So sullen and unresponsive to begin with she is now an engaging young woman who gets along well with others, cares for herself and diligently cares for the baby who allowed her to discover the power of hope.