Did you know that in 2015 alone 104 babies were dumped in Malaysia? Half of them were found dead. "Buang Bayi" or literally translated to "throw away baby" is the term used in Malaysia when a baby is dumped. This is a serious problem and a huge contrast to Singapore, where zero babies were dumped in 2015. Most people are not even aware this problem exists.
Breaking away from our typical food reviews and happy-go-lucky stuff, we want to highlight this issue that was brought to our attention through a documentary we found on Indiegogo. We go behind the scenes to interview Corine Tiah of Hatched Films, the director behind the documentary "Buang Bayi - Behind the Baby Hatch".
Here is our interview with her:
FVSW: Thanks for taking the time to do this with us, Corine. We are abhorred that even some of us Malaysians were not aware this issue existed. So, could you tell us, how did the idea of making this documentary come about?
We initially wanted to explore more on the issue of baby abandonment in Singapore after hearing about babies abandoned in local hospitals and seeing stories of dumped babies surface in the media.
However, as we continued to probe more into this issue and tried talking to individuals from MSF, we realised that cases of abandoned babies are rare in Singapore, with 21 babies found between 2006 and 2015. There were no cases in 2015, and only two of such cases each year in 2013 and 2014.
We expanded our research and found out about baby hatches, or baby boxes that have been set up around the world to receive unwanted babies to save their lives. Even our neighbour, Malaysia, has 12 baby hatches set up by the OrphanCare Foundation throughout the country.
As we found out more about the phenomenon of baby dumping or "Buang Bayi" in Malay, we were shocked at the scale of the problem in contrast to Singapore even though we were so close in proximity. Yet at the same time, we are intrigued by the unique complexities found in the predominantly Muslim society and how they contribute to the problem of baby abandonment in Malaysia. Compelled by the controversy surrounding the baby hatch and the baby abandonment situation unique to Malaysia, we embarked on this documentary.
FVSW: So, how did you start the process of this documentary? What was it that really inspired you?
What inspired us most was the story of Noriza and baby Mairah (alias), both of whom we met on our first recce trip to Malaysia. Noriza is a caretaker of the Johor Bahru baby hatch.
After a rough divorce, Noriza joined OrphanCare as a full-time caretaker. Her compassion and resilience has kept her going for four years, retrieving the babies left in the baby hatch and taking care of the pregnant girls that came to seek refuge at the house.
While talking to Noriza, she was carrying Mairah, a baby girl with multiple illnesses who was given up to OrphanCare in 2016. Moved by the bond forged between Noriza and Mairah, it inspired us to work even harder to tell this story, and through them shed light on the baby hatch system, as well as the whole issue of baby abandonment in Malaysia.
I also want to add that the idea that people have when they think of mothers who choose to give up their child is that they are heartless human beings devoid of any feelings. Not saying that this is not wrong or without reason as the act of abandoning an innocent being such as a baby warrants great anger and justice from the public.
However, we hope to reveal the other side of the story through a sympathetic view as from the people that we talked to, it is with desperation and great pressure from society that they resort to such means.
FVSW: How long did the process take to finish the documentary and when did you start doing it?
As of now, we’re still in post-production phase. We’ve conceptualised this since August last year and have been through many changes regarding the treatment of the documentary.
Pre-production planning and research took about 4 months, which includes reading articles and journals, recce trips to Malaysia and pre-interviews to make sure we understood this topic clearly if we are going to tell a story on it for others to see.
Filming took place afterwards over a period of two weeks last December, one week in Johor Bahru and another week in Kuala Lumpur with a few days of pick up shoots this year. From then till end of March, we will be investing our time into editing.
FVSW: That sounds like quite a lot to do. How much resources did you have to spend on this?
Given that we are only a team of four undergraduates struggling to pay tuition fees and find jobs, we tried to keep costs as low as possible. The budget ended up to be around S$7000, with a bulk of the budget going towards equipment rental and insurance, hiring an animator as well as overseas accommodation.
We are also in the midst of securing funding from IMDA (Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore) but the exact amount that will be reimbursed to us is still not confirmed and could take a while to process long after the project is finished, so we’re trying to raise enough money to cover our expenses now and at the same time set aside more funds for distribution of the film in the future.
We would appreciate any help that comes along our way. If you would like to support us, you can also message us directly here: https://www.facebook.com/hatchedfilms/.
FVSW: What would you say were the challenges faced when you were filming this documentary?
This is an extremely sensitive and controversial issue. We are immensely grateful to have received support from OrphanCare but we also had to be very cautious and tactful in liaising with them to ensure that both sides meet our goals, while presenting this issue accurately.
We had to be even more careful when we were filming one of the mothers who had to give up her baby for adoption. Our subjects have little power or control in their situation and could face discrimination from others by their participation in our documentary.
In the case of the mother, we wanted to hear her story but also keep her safe from any form of stigmatisation from employers or people around her. We had to make sure that we obscured her identity appropriately - concealing her face and tweaking her voice while doing it in a manner that does not make her look like a criminal.
This was also faced when filming Mairah. We first filmed footages without revealing her face. However, after receiving permission from her birth parents and foster parent halfway through production, we are now able to show her face, but we had to be particular to not exploit that privilege excessively for the sake of visuals. We tried nothing but our best to portray her story in a beautiful light. In addition, we were cautious not to film the faces of other babies or pregnant girls in the compound whilst filming b-rolls of Mairah.
FVSW: It really sounds like you have put much thought into this. What do you hope to achieve from this at the end of it all?
If we win an award at film festivals, it’s a great bonus, but more so what I want to achieve is to tell an honest and powerful story that can change the world in some way, be it helping someone’s life or inspiring somebody from the outside.
We’re hoping to release the film on various platforms, including international film festivals as well as other film festivals with a focus on human rights such as the Freedom Film Festival and the Women and Minorities in Media Festivals.
Dependent on the cooperation of the relevant organisations, we aim to work with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in Malaysia and OrphanCare to distribute copies of the documentary with Malay subtitles to teenage girls in schools. We would also like to work with non-governmental organisations such as International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific and Yayasan Chow Kit to distribute our film to women who might be in need of information and the greater public.
In the presence of a supportive society, we wish to see a future where sex education is openly supported but when these girls and women are faced with unexpected pregnancies, they can safely give up their babies for adoption or be empowered to raise their child.
Check out the trailer to "Buang Bayi - Behind the Hatch" here.
To track the progress of the documentary or lend your support, you can check out Hatched Film's Facebook page here.