Woman Abandons Disabled Newborn In Armenia And This Isn’t A New Story

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leoThere’s a new suite being built in hell, and it’s going to be filled with mirrors so that the people of Armenia who support abandoning babies born with physical or intellectual disabilities are forced to look at themselves all day every day. Also, they are also going to issued full-length adult-sized onesies made out of wool. But that last part is just for my petty enjoyment.

A New Zealand man is being praised today for choosing to raise his newborn son on his own after his wife refused to parent a child with Down Syndrome. The father, Samuel Forrest, described the scene after the baby’s birth to ABC News:

“When I walked into the room they all turned to me and said ‘Leo has Down syndrome.’ I had a few moments of shock…They took me in see him and I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful — he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him.”

Soon Forrest walked into his wife’s hospital room with Leo in his arms.

Her reaction was unlike one he ever expected.

“I got the ultimatum right then,” he said. “She told me if I kept him then we would get a divorce…What happens when a baby like this is born here, they will tell you that you don’t have to keep them,” he said. “My wife had already decided, so all of this was done behind my back.”

The boy’s mother, Ruzan Badalyan, did indeed file for divorce a week later.

It’d be easy to vilify the mother and talk about what a horrific human being she is, because that’s true, but what’s also true, and far more important here, is that abandoning disabled babies is not an unheard of practice in Armenia. A documentary on the issue called They Exist is summarized on the site, Counterpart International:

Over twenty years have passed since the fall of the USSR, yet Armenia’s disabled population still struggles with the remnants of its oppressive history. Exclusion and social distancing of persons with disabilities was very much the norm in Soviet Armenia. Institutions were built in remote locations to house the disabled, and families were encouraged to take disabled children to such centers, insisting they would be better cared for by professionals rather than at home. Unfortunately, this practice of segregation has culturally carried over to today’s Independent Armenia with over 460 of the country’s estimated 8,000 children with disabilities left abandoned in state-run orphanages.

As a woman with a physical disability, I am shocked, disgusted, mortified, and heartbroken by this. I cannot believe that I didn’t know about this wholesale rejection of disabled children until today. Fortunately, there has been some improvement in the situation. A 2012 report by UNICEF titled, “It’s about Inclusion: Access to Education, Health, and Social Protection Services for Children with Disabilities in Armenia,” says that the country, “…has made considerable progress in the protection of the rights of children with disabilities.” It still has a long way to go, however:

Thousands of children with special needs in Armenia are still isolated from their families, peers and communities and live in orphanages and special boarding schools. Many children with disabilities do not attend preschool and school at all, and do not participate in the life of their communities. The lack of social inclusion of these children keeps reinforcing segregation.

So what can we do? Because I am all fired up and ready to do many, many things. Here are some organizations you can get in contact with and/or donate to:

Full Life 


Bridge of Hope

If you want to help Leo Forrest and his father, you can donate to their Go Fund Me page, which has raised almost $350,000 to get the two back to New Zealand and to help Forrest cover some of the costs associated with raising a special needs child. Forrest plans to donate some of the surplus money to support parents raising disabled children in Armenia and has started working with disability awareness groups. As he so beautifully puts it:

“After what I’ve been through with Leo, I’m not going to sit back and watch babies be sent to orphanages. As a child with Down syndrome, that becomes somewhat of a label. If we can get around this label, we’ll see that they’re normal. They’re a little different from us, but they’re still normal. They all have niches and I want to work hard to find out where Leo’s special. This little guy is great.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go weep for a million years and then figure out how I can make a difference in the lives of these kids.

(Photo via GoFundMe)