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Abandoned and broken hearted, orphans find a home in Mygoma

His mother abandoned Musa in the arms of Sudanese policemen months ago when he was only two weeks old. The police took him to Mygoma, a small orphanage on a dusty street in Dem, a town five kilometres south of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Describing how Musa was hard-hit by the separation from his mother, a child psychologist at Mygoma, Rose, who declined to disclose her surname, said: "He would not eat, he would not sleep. He did not want to interact even though we tried to convince him and give him special care."

After only two weeks at the orphanage, Musa died. According to Rose, he died of a broken heart.

There are over 400 Sudanese children in Mygoma, all fighting to overcome the experience of being abandoned by their mothers, most of whom are usually young and unmarried. They abandon their babies because they are afraid of being condemned in a Muslim country governed by laws that do not allow sexual intercourse before marriage.

"Some of these babies come from the street," Sarra Deya, another child psychologist at Mygoma, told IRIN on 21 September. "They come from trash cans, you don't know, they could have dogs all over them [in reference to the wild dogs that roam the streets]... so the experience is already hard on them."

Local police usually take the abandoned babies to Mygoma, where they have to learn to face their future alone.

Deya said that as the babies arrived, many went into shock.

"They might not understand the abandonment, but they realise that something traumatic has happened to them and for some, the negative emotions are just too much and they cannot adjust," she said, citing the case of a small, thin baby about three months old who would not gain weight.

"I tried, really tried working with him, I gave him a lot of my time, but he gave up. He didn't want to live, you could tell. A lot of them don't want to live because they don't feel anyone wants them," she added.

Nowhere to go

Mygoma orphanage was built in 1961 due to the large number of abandoned babies that were found in the streets of Khartoum and surrounding suburbs.

"In Sudan there is no way to accept the child out of wedlock, except in very rare tribes," Mutasim Al Goni, the director of Mygoma, told IRIN on 22 September.

"You see, it is about tradition and no tradition says it is okay for Sudanese to accept a child out of wedlock," he said.

Goni said some of the unwed mothers abandoned the babies to flee a punishment that was sometimes very harsh.

"Some tribes will take the mother from the baby and hide it to cover the problem and sometimes they will try to kill the mother," he added.

Goni said although Sudanese people were becoming more accepting and the country's laws had put a stop to much of the violent traditional acts encouraging the stigmatisation of children born out of wedlock, the taboo was still too strong for the young mothers to take.

"The girls are scared," he said. "They will sometimes come to us with the police and they are just scared of what people will say, what people will do."

After Mygoma was established as a place for unwanted babies, the staff found that they were ill equipped to deal with the magnitude of the issue and the harsh world that the babies were coming from.

"The babies came sick, dehydrated and had broken bones," Goni said. "Most were found in the streets or abandoned homes and they might have been without supervision for four, five, maybe six hours."

With the babies arriving the institution as high risk and without proper health services, food, staff and funding, many of the children began to die, a problem that lasted well into 2002 as only 109 out of 567 babies lived throughout the year.

Rose told IRIN that those days, when the babies died frequently, were hard. She mentioned Maha, a six-month-old girl, who had been sick for a long time.

"I felt responsible because she was under my care," Rose said. "I had to go to the ICU [intensive care unit] to convince her to live. As I was talking with her, her breath suddenly calmed down. I called the nurse and when the nurse went to get oxygen she died in my hands."

Rose said the experience left her unable to work for an entire month because she was tormented by the memory of baby Maha dying in her arms.

"I felt responsible at the time and it was hard for me to come in to work, but now it is better. The babies are dying less these days," Rose said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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