An airport cleaning crew found a premature baby abandoned in a bathroom at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Acting quickly, authorities attempted to locate the mother. The result: international outrage over an invasive strip search of at least 13 female Qatar Airways passengers. But is such outrage misplaced?
Qatar Airways Female Passengers Face Strip Search After Baby Found Abandoned In Airport Bathroom
On October 2, 2020, an abandoned baby was found in a bathroom at Doha Airport. It isn’t clear whether the baby was found in a toilet or trash can or counter, but the baby was alive, though born premature.
When authorities were alerted, they opted to detain the female passengers onboard Qatar Airways flight QR908 to Sydney, Australia, which had already departed the gate. Reports are conflicting at this time, but there were at least 13 females onboard and all were led off the aircraft. Some have suggested that QR908 was not the only flight detained as authorities quickly tried to locate the mother.
In what must have been a horrific situation, the women were led downstairs into a cellar or garage. Two ambulances were waiting. One at a time, women were asked to board the ambulance. Inside, they were asked to remove their lower garments for a vaginal examination. Medical examiners searched for any signs of a recent birth. When asked for an explanation, they were only told, “A baby has been found in a bin, and we need to test you.”
The mother was not located by authorities.
Why Target The Australia Flight?
I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but there may be at least two reasons the Australia flight was targeted. Could it be that the baby was light skinned? Or could it be, as Qatar authorities suggest, that the flight to Australia was one of the only flights departing nearby the bathroom where the baby was found?
Addressing the incident, airport officials said:
“Medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing HIA. Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query.”
There are more questions than answers right now. Were flight attendants searched too? Airport workers, one of which may have been a surrogate mother? It isn’t clear at all whether the female passengers onboard the Qatar Airways flights were exclusively targeted or were simply the ones who spoke up. The incident took place nearly a month ago, but is coming out now because the women onboard QR908 communicated with one another (after exchanging WhatsApp numbers onboard) and jointly approached Australian authorities after their 14-day mandatory lockdown.
A Moral + Legal Issue
Western notions of probable cause and the rights of the accused do not necessarily apply in Qatar. But the issue is not really a legal one as much as a moral one.
Putting myself in the shoes of Qatari authorities, I can imagine why they desperately wanted to find the mother of the child. Leaving a newborn child to die in an airport restroom shows a wanton disregard for human life.
But importantly and thankfully, the child did not die. In fact, the child appears to be doing well. Only a desperate woman wholly unfit to be a mother would abandon her child in an airport restroom. In that sense, what was the point of finding the mother? To throw the mother in jail? To what end? So the baby and mother could be re-united? I certainly hope not.
When my wife applied for her Green Card to the United States, she was given an invasive and degrading medical examination. She was forced to strip naked while a male doctor closely examined every inch of her. She was humiliated. I was livid. I understand the violation that occurred and without probable cause, I see no moral defense of what took place, even if Qatar had the legal right to do so.
The facts are still unfolding and I will be revisiting this issue once Qatari authorities release a report. I suspect other flights were targeted and it wasn’t just 13 Australians who were subjected to this, as if the baby had a kangaroo tattoo.
I don’t think Qatari officials handled this well. Basic communication failed. And while I cannot blame them for wanting to locate the mother, it certainly wasn’t for the benefit of the child.
This incident is a poignant reminder that individual rights are illusory, even in more “liberal” Arab states. Be mindful of that as you transit the glittering cities of Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai.