Abandonment is generally understood in terms of infants and children being discarded by parents. Historically, women living in poverty, giving birth out of wedlock, or raped during wars were likely to dispose of their children. After World War II and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, many women walked out on the children they had conceived as a result of rape. Typically, youthful mothers without material or other support have been known to abandon their offspring in shame and desperation, at times in potentially life-threatening locations such as garbage bins, street corners, and public toilets. In the United States, abandonment of a child is a crime for which mothers can be prosecuted. To quell abandoned infant death, 45 U.S. states have passed a safe haven law (also called “Baby Moses” law) that permits parents to leave infants in designated “safe care” without fear of prosecution.
Abandoned children living in the streets without adults are found in every country. According to UN estimates in 2001, 150 million children under the age of 18 were dwelling in streets due to poverty, abuse, parental death, and deliberate abandonment. In many societies, more girls than boys are abandoned because of a strong preference for sons who can support their parents.
Emotional and economic abandonment of children by their fathers is a serious problem internationally and in the United States, where the UN estimated that 10 million single mothers were living with children under the age of 18 in 2000. In addition to children, a large number of elderly individuals of both genders are deserted each year in the United States. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, caregivers abandoned approximately 70,000 elderly Americans in 1991, many with serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term caregivers, the majority of whom are female relatives, are often overwhelmed by lack of financial and social assistance, leading to abandonment of their charges.
Wives are also abandoned by their spouses worldwide, including in the West. Many middle-aged wives who spent their youth supporting their husbands’ careers are replaced by younger women. Such discarding of adult women is not considered a crime in any Western country. However, in many developing nations where women’s only recourse to financial survival may be marriage, the forsaking of a wife may be a legal issue.
Desertion of wives and children has significantly grown in the wake of increased global worker mobility and many nations view it as violence against women. Following are three scenarios of wife abandonment common to immigrant communities:
- An abusive spouse might abandon his wife, and she may have no resources in the host country.
- A wife may be deceptively or forcibly transported from her home country and abandoned by her husband without any means of reentry (i.e., without passport, visa, airline ticket, or money).
- A husband might leave his wife behind in their home country and visit occasionally, with promises of bringing her back (hence the nomenclature “holiday bride”). For example, by some reports, more than 10,000 runaway immigrant grooms from India reside in Canada, and 16,000 abandoned wives live in just one Indian state. The magnitude of the problem has prompted the Indian government to draft a bill to ameliorate the situation.
- Thurer, S. L. (1994). The myths of motherhood: How culture reinvents the good mother. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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