St. Catherine’s Home and Orphanage in Bombay (Mumbai) has been caring for single mothers and abused girls for almost a hundred years. Since 1927 the Daughters of the Cross, a Catholic Religious Congregation, have run the home. St. Catherine’s doors are open for abused girls entrusted to them by police and social services.
This year the Diocesan Commission for Life chose as theme, “Supporting expectant mothers in distress”. The feast of the Annunciation provided an opportunity to celebrate the Pro-Life Day in the Archdiocese of Bombay.
Sr Udaya Chiramal, head of St. Catherine’s Home and Orphanage says,” 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.”
At the young age of 96, St. Catherine’s stands up for the affirmation of life, and the Catholic nuns who run it, reject the act of abortion as a sin against humanity and consider it murder of the unborn.
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.
In a reflection published by Asianet, Sr Udaya mentioned the changing demographic of women seeking shelter in the home. About two decades ago, most of the pregnant mothers who came to St. Catherine’s were above 18 years of age. Many were 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 young women were usually dejected and unsure of their future. With the exceptions of a few, most surrendered their babies and went back to their work or families.
Today, a majority of the residents at St. Catherine’s Home are minors. These simple unwed mothers have to face socio-economic and cultural stigmas, as well as medical, emotional and psychological burdens. Most often the pregnancy is unwanted with the mother rejecting the baby , and some even considered having an abortion, says Sr. Udaya.
In most instances, the women try to hide their pregnancies a s long as possible, for fear of losing their jobs, or the repercussions from families and friends. When they cannot hide their condition anymore, they look for help and admission. They have to face their inner conflict and feelings of helplessness, guilt, fear, anxiety and future uncertainty. This results in either makes them either aggression or depression. They need counselling or even psychiatric help.
“In most 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, ” says the nun.
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.
Since the implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence (POCSO) Act, 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, even victims of gang rape 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,” says Sr Udaya.
Sometimes, the girl’s parents decide to take her back along with the newborn child. In these cases, the police and the social services monitor the case to prevent the possibility that the child might be sold, or harmed. The young women and girls get counselling to help them decide whether to surrender the baby or not.
If the pregnancy is in the early stages, it is common that some doctors, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), and the courts advise the unwed mothers to go for ‘Medical termination 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.,” affirms the Catholic nun. “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 have to 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. Often, the young, new mother may not be ready to give up the child. Sometimes they get very upset and hysterical. At this point, they need more understanding and support.
The infants surrendered by the young mothers are adopted through the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) and placed with good families.
[with inputs from ASIANET]