Sudan’s first official Mother and Baby Unit: EU funding prevents baby abandonment
An EU funded project in Sudan is training and empowering child protection professionals to respond to the needs of vulnerable women, set up new care services, and reduce stigma and discrimination. But the social and political situation in Sudan makes it one of the most challenging countries we work in. Joe Glackin, Hope and Homes for Children’s Head of Programmes Development, and Nawal Arbab, Project Coordinator, explain their approach.
Our work in Sudan
Hope and Homes for Children started to work in Sudan in 1998, helping displaced children in Khartoum to be cared for in a family environment. Since 2005 we have been supporting the Government of Sudan to develop and implement a system of family and community-based alternatives to institutional care across Sudan.
In 2015, we completed the closure of two orphanages in the states of Gazira and Red Sea, supporting the transition of 186 children into families. The closures represent a significant milestone for our team in Sudan—the first two states free of institutions and with effective programmes in place to strengthen families and offer alternative family and community based care for separated children.
A new project funded by the EU, ‘Development of a safe environment for single mothers, pregnant women and women who give birth outside wedlock and their children,’ will help Hope and Homes for Children to prevent baby abandonment: this work has received significant funding from the European Union which has awarded a grant of 240,000 Euros to help Hope and Homes for Children and our partner Shaama establish support services for single mothers and their babies in Sudan.
“We completed the closure of two orphanages in the states of Gazira and Red Sea, supporting the transition of 186 children into families”
This EU funded project, started in April 2018, is training and empowering child protection professionals to respond to the needs of vulnerable women, set up new prevention and quality alternative care services and see the stigma and discrimination towards single mothers, pregnant women and women who give birth outside wedlock and orphans reduced.
The project has two overall objectives:
1. Contribution to the promotion of women’s rights, gender equality and empowerment of women in particular in terms of improvement of maternal health and reduction of maternal mortality rates.
2. Contribution to the promotion of children’s rights in Sudan in particular in terms of reduction of child mortality, prevention of abandonment and institutionalization of children born out of wedlock.
As direct and measurable effect of the project, 900 vulnerable women will benefit from family and community based service including outreach, prevention of separation, reunification services and in particular from the services provided through the new Mother and Baby Units to be set up.
Working with Shamaa, our local partner organisation in Sudan, Hope and Homes for Children is using the new EU funds to roll out further community-based services to support vulnerable women and their babies and prevent abandonment and institutionalisation.
De-stigmatisation of orphans and single mothers
A crucial part of the work has been to challenge public attitudes to abandoned babies. The stigma connected with being an unmarried mother has been identified as one of the key drivers for both the abandonment of babies in Sudan.
Involving community and religious leaders will be a crucial step to developing and implementing both prevention services and alternative family care. They play an essential role in the de-stigmatisation of orphans, helping in the prevention and reunification process and influencing policy makers.
“The stigma connected with being an unmarried mother has been identified as one of the key drivers for both the abandonment of babies in Sudan.”
Sudan’s first mother and baby unit
In the complex political and religious environment of Sudan our Hope and Homes for Children team has always had to work creatively to be able to achieve change in attitude and practice towards babies born out of wedlock, and their mothers. The team recognized the need for such a service as the Mother and baby Unit early on but the risk for anyone developing and creating such a service is that they would be accused of encouraging promiscuity—a very serious accusation in Sudan. So our Hope and Homes for Children team Sudan developed a support service by quietly placing single mothers and women pregnant out of wedlock, inside certain discreet EAFs (foster families) and providing support to them to keep their babies. This worked for a number of years while our team worked to build the capacity of our partner Shamaa in Khartoum, and supported them to lobby with the Child and Family Protection Unit of the police, local authorities and community leaders until they were finally given permission to open Sudan’s first official Mother and Baby Unit—a huge breakthrough in reducing stigma, providing quality support to vulnerable young women, before during and after birth, and giving them a voice to decide their own and their babies’ futures, and a visibility in the local community where they had previously been hidden by shame and stigma.
“This has greatly reduced the stigma and has empowered the young mothers so they are confident in speaking about their rights, and the rights and future of their babies.”
The Mother and Baby Units, expanded under our current EU-funded project, actively work with young mothers to keep their babies and support them to do so while reconnecting them with their families and communities. The staff at the Mother and Baby Units also work to empower the young mothers by making the group a safe place where they can share challenges and their life experiences, and learn from each other. The families of the young mothers, and the fathers of the children, are encouraged to visit to listen discuss and share responsibility. Traditionally, because they were not married, the fathers were not allowed to be in contact with the babies mothers but Shamaa workers have bravely insisted and encouraged them to visit and play a part in their babies’ lives. This has greatly reduced the stigma and has empowered the young mothers so they are confident in speaking about their rights, and the rights and future of their babies. This in turn has increased their self-confidence in facing a society which in the past considered pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock a punishable offence.
Interestingly, many of the young women and their families have only realised through being involved in the Mother and Baby Units and its outreach services that real social change has already taken place in Sudan and that there is a lot of support for them. In meetings organised by the staff of the Mother and Baby Units they get the chance to meet, question and hear from community leaders, religious and local authorities as well as young women who share the same experiences as them. Hearing these different groups from society tell them they support them and are advocating for a better life for them and their babies has had a transformative effect on the young mothers and their families.
All the developments in the story of the Mother and Baby Units in Sudan have required courage, creativity and careful planning by our Hope and Homes for Children team, our partner Shamaa and also by the young mothers and their families.
“Whereas a few years ago these young women would have been punished and had their babies taken from them and put in the Maygoma institution, now they are supported by family and community”
A Sudan free of institutions is in sight
But it has paid off. Whereas a few years ago these young women would have been punished and had their babies taken from them and put in the Maygoma institution, now they are supported by family and community, encouraged to make decisions which will be best for them and their babies. In this way they are also contributing to the momentum for change in Sudan which in the space of the last fifteen years has changed policy, practice and attitude towards recognizing that babies should be in families and not institutions and that despite political and social upheaval a Sudan free of institutions is in sight.
Too often, the voices and stories of women, especially those involved in the care of children, is marginalised and hidden. Throughout March, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate how the empowerment of women also helps to ensure children grow up with the love of a family and the safety of home.