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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid