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At Nairobi Dump, Abandoned Babies Found Amid Trash

Children walk to school near the Ngong dump in Nairobi. Last year, 16 infants, including some still alive, were found there in one of Kenya’s largest landfills.

Shadrack Musyoka has been sorting garbage at this city’s Ngong dumping site for 20 years. He keeps a log of how many containers he fills for sale to recycling companies. But since 2013, he has also kept another list.

Sixteen newborn babies, it reads, were found in the trash in 2015, up from the 12 he recorded in 2013. Some were discovered alive and put up for adoption, but not all.

Musyoka recalls being at the dump early one morning when a teacher, walking by on her way to a nearby school, heard a baby cry. She listened carefully and found a box with a baby inside. She was in a hurry, so she handed over the baby to him. He took the baby to the police, who called a local children’s home. The baby was taken to the hospital for a medical examination.

"We are poor. We cannot take care of such a child," Musyoka says, referring to himself and other garbage collectors who come across such cases.

Garbage sorter Shadrack Musyoka tracks the number of abandoned infants found at the Ngong dump, where pigs and other animals root for food.
Garbage sorter Shadrack Musyoka tracks the number of abandoned infants found at the Ngong dump, where pigs and other animals root for food.

The 10-acre dump takes in garbage from all over Nairobi. It is nearly impossible to track where the babies come from or to pinpoint which garbage truck deposited an infant, he says.

Who’s at fault?

Musyoka attributes the abandoned babies to carelessness about sex and to poor parenting. A family must have a strong foundation and raise its girls well, he says, adding the mother plays a very important role.

But others say men also shoulder responsibility.

Jackline Muthoni was gang-raped as a teenager in 2002. She says she contemplated throwing the baby away because she could not deal with the stigma.

She says the first thing that happens with an unplanned pregnancy is that you hate yourself, especially if it was the result of rape. Muthoni didn’t know who impregnated her. She kept seeing the different faces of these men and, she says, felt as if she was "carrying a dog, sometimes garbage."

Muthoni ultimately gave up her baby for adoption.

Mama Ziporah, who founded the Huruma Children’s Home in Ngong, takes in some of the babies found at the nearby dump site. She says those babies are too young to remember how they were abandoned.

"After six months when nobody comes to claim them, we get a letter from the police and we contact the adoption society to find homes for them," Ziporah says. "So most of them are in their homes with parents who care for them."

But not all babies are so lucky.

In the 2015 crime report, Kenya’s inspector general of police reported a 55 percent increase in infanticide cases, based on complaints filed at police stations. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Avoiding unwanted pregnancy

It is unclear what is driving that spike, but experts say one possible solution is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Kenyan public hospitals now offer free reproductive health services. This includes free consultations on family planning and distribution of contraceptives such as condoms.

But nongovernmental organizations working with youth say that is not enough.

Patrick Ouko, founder of the Seed Foundation, says the teenagers he works with know about condoms but choose not to use them.

"When youths are adolescent, they want to experiment with their bodies and their bodies are changing," he says. "And so it ends up maybe going in a way they might not have expected."

Back at the dumping site, Musyoka sorts garbage. He says he hopes a solution can be found. Until then, he will keep looking out for infants in need of saving.