03/28/2023, 19.07
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Mumbai: St. Catherine's Home helps single mothers victims of violence

by sr. Udaya Chiramal

Since 1927 the Daughters of the Cross have cared for single mothers. Today their home also cares for abused girls entrusted to them by police and social services. Dedicated to life, the Sisters help young mothers understand that they and their children are safe at their home.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The feast of the Annunciation provided an opportunity to celebrate the Pro-Life Day in the Archdiocese of Bombay. This year the Diocesan Commission for Life chose as theme, "Supporting expectant mothers in distress".

Together with the prayer intentions in all the Masses, the day offered Sr Udaya Chiramal, head of St. Catherine's Home and Orphanage, a moment to reflect online. The facility has been run by the Daughters of the Cross providing care to single mothers since 1927. Her testimony follows.

During these past years our world and society have gone through great changes and progressed in leaps and bounds. Yet I would say there is not much relief for women, neither in the family nor at work. Women and girls are neither safe in the village nor in cities. Some of the problems faced by women and children are beyond our imagination.

Almost up to the year 2000, the majority of the pregnant mothers who came for admission were above 18 years. Most were from the lower strata of society. There were many migrant and domestic workers. There were admissions from rural areas, tribals, as well as from the city. Very often they were afraid of the stigma connected with the pregnancy. The girls and young women were completely dejected and unsure of their future. Almost all, with the exceptions of a few, surrendered their babies and resettled back at their work or families.

However, now a majority of residents at St. Catherine’s Home are minors. Often the girls are completely broken and shattered. These simple unwed mothers have to face socio-economic and cultural stigmas, as well as medical, emotional and psychological burdens. They need help from the very start and to the very root of their problems. Most often the pregnancy is unwanted with the mother rejecting the baby and even considered abortion. These feelings of rejection have a negative impact on the child.

Many of the girls and young women hide their pregnancy due to fear of losing their jobs or the repercussions from their families and friends. It is revealed when they cannot hide their condition anymore or someone has already noticed about their pregnancy. They look for help and admission. They have to face their inner conflict and feelings of helplessness, guilt, fear, anxiety and future uncertainty, etc. makes them either aggressive or depressed. They need counselling or even psychiatric help.

Almost in all cases the fathers refuse to take responsibility for the pregnancy and very often even deny the facts. Their families threaten the girl and force her to abort the child to protect their son. The girl has no option but to take the help of the institution and deliver the baby.

St. Catherine’s takes full responsibility for hospital registration, regular check-ups, counselling and other medical needs. Good nutrition, exercise, yoga, meditation, etc. have helped mothers to be healthy and more positive towards their babies.

Help is given to cope up with their situation and a safe delivery. During their stay, these girls are counselled so that they can make the right decision about their babies. In a few cases, the fathers come back and marry the young woman or girl and accept the child too.

Many changes have taken place after the shocking Nirbhaya case in 2012. A new law was implemented, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence (POCSO) Act. Since then, the number of girls under 18 years admitted has increased. Most of them are entangled in teenage love, live-in relationships, child marriage, running away, etc.

They are from inter-religious, inter-caste, inter-state groups, victims of sexual violence and abuse from family members, gang rape victims. At the home, the police check the DNA of the baby to identify the biological fathers and all the accused are dealt with under the POCSO Act.

The victims are given psychological help and counselling to cope with their situation, as well as regular check-ups and other medical care. Some also need psychiatric assistance and medication. The girls are reassured and helped in a safe and secure environment.

At St. Catherine’s Home, we have a holistic approach to their problems. Yet, despite all these reassurances, in some cases, they prefer to run away to their lovers whom they miss. Many plan and attempt to run away since most of them are brought here against their will.

In cases where the girl’s parents decide to take her with her baby home, the police as well as the social services monitor the case to prevent the possibility that the child might be sold, etc. While in the hospital the young women and girls get counselling to decide whether to surrender the baby or take him or her to their family.

Usually the doctors, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), and the courts advise the young women and girls to abort the child in the early stages of pregnancy. We have made it very clear where we stand on this matter and will not admit the cases referred for abortion, since we promote life. We are not willing to be part of the criminal act of abortion. We have told them to respect us, our values and our principles.

Initially, under the POSCO Act, victims received a compensation which was a relatively good amount, but now it has gone down to the minimum and often nothing.

Every case that comes to us is unique. This can be seen at the time when the mothers surrender their babies. For the psycho-social, emotional adjustment of the girls as well as their family, help is given through a number of counselling sessions. The young, new mother cannot be ready to cut the umbilical cord with the child. Sometimes they get very upset and hysterical. At this point, they need more understanding and support from us.

Babies who are surrendered by the young mothers are adopted through the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) and placed with good families. For the young mothers and the Sisters at the home, this is a very painful journey given its traumatic and sensitive nature. But then life begins again with a ray of hope and joy for all.

(Pascoal Carvalho, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, contributed to this article)

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