Edit October 20: Since this and many other articles were published, Morrison has come out strongly denying there are any pregnant women with twins on Nauru. I note he does not say there never were:
Despite this, Mr Morrison used the once-weekly briefing to admonish assembled journalists for misreporting asylum seeker issues, including the widely cited presence of an asylum seeker on Nauru who is expecting twins.
“Again, this suggestion that there’s a pregnant woman with twins on Nauru is simply not true, it’s actually not true,” he said.
“There is not a pregnant woman with twins on Nauru. And this is why I’m stressing to you.”
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I have watched heated debate from all sides. I have heard through the grapevine that Morrison will never let the mother return to the mainland because of the risk of encouraging a rush of (presumably) women pregnant with twins on boats.
I would like to look at some of the facts around this case. The first question is how common are twins: in other words, how likely are boat loads of mothers pregnant with twins? Not very. My husband’s people, the Yoruba, have the highest rate of twin births in the world, 45 – 50 per 1,000 births. South Asia and South-East Asia experiences rates of a much lower 6 – 9 sets per 1,000 births, while USA sits around the 20 – 30 mark (an increase that it is suggested is due to the use of fertility drugs).
I don’t know how many pregnant asylum seekers risk a boat, but for every thousand of them, we could expect maybe 2% to be carrying twins. In other words – NOT A LOT!
Let us look at the countries involved here. Australia, Iran and Nauru.
Under 5 mortality (per 1,000 live births):
United Nations Human Development Indicator ranking:
I don’t think I need to say a lot about the above comparisons – they speak for themselves.
I accept women having babies is not a new thing. It is my personal opinion the western world has made pregnancy an illness, rather than viewing pregnancy as a very natural and normal part of life. Heaven help us that we should feel any actual pain when pushing! Yes, we have made wonderful medical advances and have very low infant mortality rates compared with many other countries, but let’s not panic over a pregnancy. Don’t turn away just yet, this isn’t over!
I accept that Australia is not obliged under the Refugee Convention to provide this mother with a private room at St Vincent’s Hospital.
That being said, we do have a moral responsibility to ensure the adequate medical care of both the mother and the children. I would have thought our current crop of politicians who crow about their christianity at every opportunity, would have an understanding of moral obligation.
Multiple births are considered, medically, higher risk. The average twin pregnancy lasts 35 weeks (meaning many don’t make it that far). This means the babies are premature and therefore at a greater risk of health problems, although those reaching 35 weeks generally do well.
This doesn’t take into account the stress on the mother of living in a tent in a rather warm climate after a torturous boat trip. The circumstances are extreme.
Nauru is warm, but so is Iran: July in Iran has average highs of up to 37 degrees. I believe Nauru is actually cooler, but we have no knowledge of this mother’s living arrangements in Iran. On the face of it, it seems she is likely used to high temperatures.
What does the Refugee Convention actually say? We are signatories, after all, not that you would believe it given we are in major contravention of the terms!
It seems the Refugee Convention is silent on the question of medical care of pregnant women specifically, however there are other international laws with very specific provisions:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) makes a specific provision for giving “appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance” (art. 22) to the refugee child.
The above article makes for very interesting reading about asylum seekers generally and the abuses they often face.
I speak of Morrison and Abbott because they are now in charge, but it was the ALP who brought this current policy in. Equally responsible for this situation.
Medical professionals are not impressed either:
Prof. Nicholas Talley, president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australia’s peak physician and paediatrician body, said the two pregnancies raised “serious health concerns”. He confirmed that if the woman did have diabetes she would be a high-risk pregnancy.
“In my view, and in the view of the college, the facilities [on Nauru] are inappropriate facilities to deal with cases like these,” he said.
- Irrespective of the Refugee Convention, Australia has an obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) to give “appropriate protection”.
- We currently have a Prime Minister who is known not to be in favour of abortion, yet is willing to risk the lives of unborn babies and of their mother in contravention of the Convention.
- Mothers carrying twins are twice as likely to develop pre-eclampsia. Not pleasant – I had this with both my pregnancies.
- We are extremely unlikely to be swamped with pregnant women carrying twins on boats, given the low rate of twin pregnancies globally.
- We are a first world nation with the medical resources available to support these asylum seeker children as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and we have a moral and legal obligation to do so.
- Those in charge professing to be christians need to put their beliefs into practice without being told by an atheist that they are behaving in an immoral way by risking the lives of these babies.
- The mother and children can be returned to Nauru after the babies are stable and healthy if the government is so intent on continuing this off-shore policy. While I disagree with the off-shore processing policy, the purpose of this article is not to debate that particular policy, only the welfare of these babies.
Other UN Resources:
http://www.who.int/countries/aus/en/ – Australia
- Calls to relocate pregnant asylum seeker from Nauru (abc.net.au)
- Do our regional neighbours only exist when asylum seekers are involved? (onlythesangfroid.wordpress.com)
- Welfare concerns for pregnant asylum seeker expecting twins on Nauru (abc.net.au)