Thousands of babies are abandoned in Morocco every year because their single mothers are too afraid to face family and friends. Instead of just taking in abandoned children, one nonprofit has begun working with families to help single mothers find ways to keep their babies.
At this center for abandoned children in Marrakech, kids play and sing with caretakers.
The home currently has about 60 children, between four-days and seven-years old. Many of them were born to single mothers who abandoned them at a young age.
Experts say it is a growing phenomenon in Morocco, where aid agencies estimate that more than 6,000 babies are abandoned at birth each year, roughly one in 50 babies born.
Having a child outside of marriage carries heavy stigma in the moderate Muslim country. Single mothers find it hard to turn to their friends and family for support, but a German-based group, The League for Child Protection, is seeking to change that.
The League runs this home for abandoned children in Marrakech and others like it around the country, but it is also working with single mothers and their families to try to prevent children from being abandoned in the first place.
The League's Director, Lamia Chrabi Lazreck, says they are making headway.
Lazrek says they have been doing mediation work with some of the parents of single mothers. He says sometimes they have also been able to mediate with the father of the child. He says they have found work for these women and offered to care for their babies temporarily at the center for three or four months so they may have some time to sort themselves out.
Most of the women who come to the center in Marrakech are below the age of 25, several of them are under 18.
One single mother said she is working with counselors to try to persuade the father of her two-year-old child, Maryam, to officially recognize the baby so she can have the legal status and rights of a legitimate child.
She says she wishes the administrative procedures for her daughter could be sorted out so she can live like any other child and have everything she needs. She says she does not want people pointing fingers at her. Our society, she says, is not very forgiving.
Moroccan law provides protection for single mothers, but entrenched cultural norms mean they still face enormous social barriers. Those who choose to keep their babies can be ostracized by family and friends and find it difficult to support themselves.
Despite important reforms to Morrocco's Family Code in 2004, the law provides little protection to single mothers who can still face criminal prosecution for having had sex outside of marriage.
UNICEF Representative to Morocco Aloys Kamuragiye applauded the intervention and support the League for Child Protection is giving mothers and their families.
He says it is a very interesting and important experiment the League is leading in Marrakech. He says it should be supported by all Moroccans and replicated throughout the country.
The League runs six other centers in Morocco. Aid agencies say government and societal support for the League's activities is growing, but much remains to be done.