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A new-born baby is fighting for his life in hospital after he was thrown down a pit toilet in Edendale, near Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
When paramedics rescued the infant after a two-hour ordeal yesterday morning, his umbilical cord was still intact and he was covered in maggots.
The child's 23-year-old mother has been arrested and is facing a charge of attempted murder.
It is not clear why she threw the child into the toilet. The child's grandmother heard his cries and called the police.
Paramedics raced to the scene shortly after 8.30am. Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said when they arrived, access was very difficult.
"We could hear the heart- wrenching cries of a baby, but we where unable to gain access down the pit.
"A dangerous rescue operation started and emergency personnel, including police and fire and emergency personnel, started digging an access route to get to the child," Botha said
Botha described the operation as "sensitive" adding that the frantic emergency workers had to guard against toppling the toilet's walls over the baby as they cut a 2m trench through the ground to the get to him.
"When we reached the baby, he was in a critical condition, covered in maggots and with the umbilical cord still attached," said Botha.
"Paramedics treated him at the scene. They had to warm him because he was cold and gave him intravenous therapy. He was then taken to Grey's Hospital in the city. His condition is critical."
Cookie Edwards from the KwaZulu-Natal Network on Violence Against Women and Children said, though there was no excuse to abandon babies, sometimes circumstances forced young women to hide births.
"Maybe the mother did not want the family to know about the birth," she said. "But she could take the child to a hospital or to a safe place. These kinds of incidents tell us that we need ongoing empowerment programmes to teach women about their sexual and reproductive health.
"Women must know help is at hand and that there are organisations to help them."