Early Feb. 2015, an Armenian woman reportedly divorced her husband and gave up her baby upon learning the child was born with Down syndrome.
After the fact, the mother, Ruzan Badalyan, shared that making the decision was the hardest moment of her life, but her haste and decision not to even see the baby after giving birth bring a different light to the claim. The claim to fame first came to the father of this child, Samuel Forrest, who immediately sought media attention, likely in order to raise money for the child he couldn’t otherwise afford to care for on his own.
He shares with ABC news on Feb. 5 that his wife disowned their child, Leo Forrest, and divorced him within one week of Leo’s birth.
Though it is not clear who is telling the most whole truth, the situation is far from atypical.
Badalyan is not alone in her decision to give away the rights to her disabled child right after giving birth. In Armenia, the country in which she was born and raised and gave birth to her son; it is very common that such children are cast away without much of a second thought.
It is the cultural norm for people born with disabilities that set them apart from the general population to be removed from society as soon as they are born.
In this case, baby Leo is now going to live with his father in New Zealand, where Forrest is native to. The media attention initially given to the story sought to gain support for Forrest in his endeavor, raising funds for their trip to New Zealand as well as support for Leo as he grows up. Though Forrest reportedly said he was going to keep Leo over Badalyan’s wishes, she eventually claimed that she did wish for a better life for her child, and believed that was possible in New Zealand, that her minimal income and the social stigma that is held in Armenia would not be a healthy, or even feasible environment for Leo to grow up in.
Their particular story took the media by storm, but the message carried along with it is much deeper than the separation of a single family for an arbitrary reason. Armenia is known to have limited accessibility and accommodations for people with disabilities, making it more difficult for the average person to emotionally and physical care for their child or other dependents with a disability.
The lack of accessibility for disabled people in Armenia as well as numerous other developing countries means that the disabled have limited social and economic opportunities, especially if their families fall within the lower-income bracket. Not only are work environments inhospitable to most people with disabilities, but the social platform upon which the economic structure is based upon does not support those with disabilities.
Discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes, most extremely the belief that a child born with a disability should automatically be disowned by its parents and extended family, need to change in order to create a more equitable and welcoming society.