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Pregnant and in trouble? Authorities say, ‘seek help’

14 April 2016

By Daisy CL Mandap

Seek help before it gets too late. This is the advice that both the Consulate and concerned groups have sent out, after it was reported that a Filipino former domestic worker had dumped her newborn baby in North Point early on Jan. 6.
The case was uncovered after Maribel Hernandez, 37, complained of feeling unwell in the boarding house she was staying at on the second floor of the State Theatre Building on King’s Road. A concerned neighbor called police shortly after 10am, and she was rushed to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan where it was discovered that she had just given birth.
On questioning by police, the Filipina who was found to have overstayed her visa since the middle of last year, reportedly said she had induced her baby’s birth with medicine she bought from a nearby pharmacy. She subsequently dumped her baby into a trash bin on Electric Road near City Garden.
At the time, Hernandez was reportedly eight months into her pregnancy.
But a 24-hour search by a team of about 40 police officers in the area, as well as in the Nim Wan landfill in Tuen Mun, yielded no trace of the newborn baby.
Hernandez was put on hospital arrest and was charged with administering a drug to induce abortion.
Consul General Bernardita Catalla, who said she first learned about the case from newspaper reports, expressed regret that Hernandez did not seek help, probably because she was afraid that her illegal status would be uncovered.
“But she should not have worried,” said Congen Catalla. “Hindi niya dapat pinaabot pa sa eight months ang kanyang problema.”
Congen said the Consulate could have helped her surrender to authorities, and even if she was sent to prison and gave birth there, she had no reason to worry.
“We visited Lowu (detention centre) recently, may baby doon. Ang lusog-lusog, ang cute at ang daming nag-aalaga. Ang gatas, S-26 pa,” Congen said to describe the situation of a mother who was allowed to keep her baby in jail with her.
She said that prison inmates in Hong Kong appear to be well-looked after, with those needing medical attention being taken to hospital for treatment.
Although the Consulate was yet to be given permission to speak with Hernandez as of this writing, the police had already shared copies of their file on the case with them.
Meanwhile, non-government organization PathFinders has sought to reiterate its appeal for pregnant migrant women to immediately consult them if they are having problems.
Its chief operating officer Luna Chan said in an interview with The Sun Radio that the earlier they get involved in the problem the better it would be for both the mother and the child.
“We would really like pregnant domestic helpers to come to us at an early stage so we can plan for a more humane and reasonable solution to their problem. Like it or not, the pregnancy will not go away. A child will be born into the world, and that’s a situation that has to be dealt with,” Chan said.
Dealing with the twin problems of pregnancy and overstaying is nothing new to PathFinders, as Chan said half of all their clients had overstayed their visas.
After explaining the possible repercussions of their illegal stay, PathFinders would extend all sorts of assistance to the pregnant woman, from giving her shelter to counseling, and if necessary, even accompanying her to the Immigration Department to explain her plight.
An investigation by Immigration does not always lead to prosecution, said Chan. And even if it does, “it may or it may not result to a suspended sentence”.
However, from experience, Chan said that for mothers who overstayed for a year to not exceeding two years, “it’s quite possible that they would get a suspended sentence.”
In Hernandez’s case, the sentence may have been much lighter, given the short length of her overstay. But as she now faces an additional charge of inducing her baby’s abortion, her case appears to have become more complicated.
It is not, however, the first incident of a mother in Hong Kong dumping her newborn baby in the rubbish bin.
Just last year, a 21-year-old mother was charged with infanticide after her baby was found by a cleaner inside a black plastic bag in a garbage bin. However, she got away with a probation order after the judge ruled that she had thrown her baby away while she was in a state of “isolation, exhaustion, shame and panic.”
Earlier in the year, a 31-year-old Indonesian domestic helper also said she had dumped her newborn in a rubbish bin in Kennedy Town. As in the present case, however, the baby was never found.

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