News / Asia

    India's Cradle Babies Program Hopes to End Female Infanticide

    Baby girls play inside the Life Line Trust orphanage in Salem in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, June 20, 2013.
    Baby girls play inside the Life Line Trust orphanage in Salem in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, June 20, 2013.
    Reuters
    Unwanted infant girls in the sterile, sparsely furnished nursery rooms of the Life Line Trust orphanage in Tamil Nadu state, southern India, are considered the lucky ones.
     
    They are India's “Cradle Babies” - products of a government project that permits parents to give unwanted baby girls anonymously to the state, saving them from possible death in a region where daughters are seen as a burden and where their murder is a common reality.
     
    “Often babies are found in ditches and garbage pits. Some are alive, others are dead,” said A. Devaki, a government child protection officer in the Salem district, one of the worst-afflicted areas.
     
    “Just last week, we found a newborn baby girl barely breathing in a dustbin at the local bus stand,” said Devaki.
     
    She added that a lack of education, the low status of girls and widespread poverty were the main factors why girl babies were killed or dumped with little chance of survival.
     
    “One girl is okay, but a second or third will likely end up being killed. That's why we introduced the Cradle Baby Scheme,” Devaki explained.
     
    While the project has been praised for potentially saving the lives of thousands of Indian girls, human rights activists have criticized it, accusing authorities of encouraging the abandonment of girls and promoting the low status of women in this largely patriarchal society.
     
    Cradle Babies
     
    Started in 1992, the project runs in dusty towns and mud-and-brick villages across Tamil Nadu. It allows parents to leave unwanted baby girls in dozens of empty cradles in hospitals, welfare centers and government offices.
     
    At the beginning, parents would secretly leave their babies in the cribs. These days, they are more open and simply hand infants to welfare officers.
     
    The children are then sent to registered orphanages like the Life Line Trust, where they are put up for adoption.
     
    “Words can't explain how much joy this little girl gives us,” said R. Umamangeshwari, 42, sitting next to her husband, a businessman in the textile industry, with their newly adopted one-year-old daughter, Janani.
     
    After 10 years of trying for a child, the couple approached the orphanage and within a year, after government welfare officers carried out checks, they were deemed suitable adoptive parents and given custody of Janani.
     
    Since the Cradle Baby program began, poverty-stricken parents and single mothers have handed-in over 3,700 children, mostly girls. More than 3,600 of them have been adopted by childless, middle-class couples in Tamil Nadu, officials said.
     
    Palaniamma, 40, recalled how her mother took away her newborn daughter and put her in the scheme 11 years ago. Days later, she convinced her family to get her daughter back.
     
    “I am glad I refused to give her up,” Palaniamma said outside her mud-and-thatch home in Krishnapuram village. “Whatever difficulties I'll face, I thought, it's better to bring up my own child than desert her.”
     
    Activists and officials say financial pressures associated with dowries are so great that parents have been aborting female fetuses for decades after discovering their gender through ultrasound examinations, despite the practice being illegal.
     
    A 2011 study in The Lancet medical journal found that up to 12 million Indian girls had been aborted in the past three decades.
     
    Milk Laced with Poison
     
    Other parents kill girls or fail to save them from preventable diseases, leading to an alarmingly skewed child gender ratio. There were 919 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2011, compared with 976 in 1961, according to the Census of India.
     
    In Salem, communities like the Vanniyar people practice infanticide more than feticide. This is primarily because they cannot afford ultrasound tests, which are growing in popularity in parts of India, to illegally determine an unborn child's sex.
     
    There are no official figures on how many girls have been killed across the state, but government officials and activists say at least one or two cases of babies being found abandoned or dead are reported every month.
     
    In June, local media reported the arrest of a father of four girls in the district of Dharmapuri. He was suspected of killing his 22-day-old daughter by feeding her poisoned milk, then burying her corpse in a ditch.
     
    Officials say the Cradle Baby program has been a success, improving gender ratios where the project is active.
     
    Rights activists say the improved ratio is largely a result of greater awareness and advocacy work, and better family planning, rather than the project.
     
    They say the program has failed to tackle the root causes of female infanticide by promoting the abandonment of girls and allowing parents to shift responsibility to the state. As a result, they say, the killing of baby girls continues.
     
    “The government is legitimizing the dumping of girls,” said M. Shankar of the Development Education and Environment Protection Society, a Dharmapuri-based charity that works on gender rights issues.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora