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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


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