In Chile, Bernarda Gallardo was horrified after she found out that babies were being buried without funeral ceremonies, without names and in unmarked graves. This came to her attention in 2004 when she read a news headline that said: “They killed and dumped a newborn baby on the rubbish heap.” The newborn girl was reportedly placed in a black rubbish bag and disposed of at local dump. Gallardo named the girl Aurora and decided to try and give her a proper burial.
She said, “If you get a baby that is alive you clothe it and feed it and put it in a cot. If your baby arrives dead you have to get a coffin and give it a decent burial.”
However, this process sounds much easier than it actually is because in Chile, if family doesn’t claim the body, it’s disposed of with other surgical waste.
Thankfully, Gallardo was able to prevent this from happening but was told she had to adopt the baby in order to bury her. According to BBC News, initially the judge overseeing the adoption was hesitant to allow Gallardo to adopt a dead baby but once he realized she was trying to give Aurora a dignified burial, he granted her request.
Unfortunately, statistics show that at least ten dead infants are found abandoned in Chile every year. Gallardo explained why she believes this is happening. She said, “These are young women, often no more than girls who are victims of rape and incest. If it is their father or stepfather who rapes them, they are too frightened to speak out. The rapists are often the ones who are providing for the family.
Gallardo also said she’s sympathetic because she was raped by a man in her neighborhood and became pregnant when she was 16-years-old. Gallardo raised her daughter by herself but had the support of her friends. She said, “After I was raped, I was lucky enough to be able to move on because of the support I got from my friends. But if I had been left on my own, perhaps I would have felt as helpless as they do.”
Additionally, Gallardo believes giving these children proper burials will help prevent these tragedies from happening in the future and encourage mothers to place their babies for adoption.
It took many months to get the medical tests done and the paperwork sorted out but finally Gallardo was allowed to take Aurora’s body for burial. Five-hundred people came to the funeral – they had been following Aurora’s progress in the local newspaper where the story was originally published.
Gallardo says the atmosphere was like a big birthday party – a celebration of Aurora’s life. There were children, doctors, nurses, the local press, people from the countryside and the judge. They sang songs, read poems about Aurora and played music.
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It was important to Gallardo that so many people came to the public ceremony. “I wanted to get my local community to think about what was going on. Why are babies being left to die when there are least four families ready and waiting and in the right condition to adopt an unwanted baby?” she says.
“Instead of killing the babies give them up for adoption!”
Now Gallardo is placing signs at rubbish dumps that say: “Don’t throw your babies in the rubbish.” Her hope is that more education and giving women safe places to leave unwanted children will decrease infant abandonment in Chile. Since 2004, Gallardo has adopted three more dead children, who she’s named Manuel, Victor and Cristobal.