In India’s patriarchal society, there’s a cultural tendency to favor boys, which leads to too many parents each year abandoning their baby girls. At least there is a way to avoid the worst outcome.
UDAIPUR — I'm at the reception desk of the city hospital in this northern Indian city, with doctors, nurses and patients walking by. But what catches my eye is a cradle resting alone in the corner.
Suddenly a bell rings and I see two nurses rushing towards it.
Inside a newborn baby is wrapped in an orange muslin cloth. I ask the nurses what's going on. "Once a baby is placed in the cradle, the bell rings two minutes later informing us that a child has been dropped off," says senior nurse Kalpana Kumari as she explains how Udaipur's cradle system works. "We are not able see the person dropping it but we take the child for a medical checkup. If the child is healthy we transfer him or her to the orphanage."Vimla Suhalka, the second nurse adds, "most of the time the dropped child is a girl. I feel so depressed when I see these babies. And I feel sorry for their mothers."
Once cleared of any illnesses, the baby is picked up by the Mahesh Ashram, the adoption agency that started the Cradles for Unwanted Babies initiative. Deepak Singh Deora works for the ashram and also drives the ambulance that comes to collect the babies.
The cradle program was launched in 2011 with the objective of trying to get people to consign their babies to the state, instead of abandoning them, Deora said. "I have just received this baby and now will file a police report," she explains. "After the girl is legally free, we will work to find a family to adopt her."
An abandoned child with her adoptive mother — Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal/KBR
Here at the Mahesh Ashram orphanage, a few children are happily playing. Among them is three-year-old Jainel who has come to visit her old home, with her adopted parents. "Our life has changed after adopting our daughter," says the father, Pankaj Saldaar. "Adoption should be encouraged because it not only helps the abandoned children but also gives new life to childless parents."
Ria Saladaar, Jainel's mother, tells me she is deeply grateful she was able to adopt, and that the little girl has changed her life and brought much happiness to their family. In India it is illegal to abandon or neglect a child, and those found guilty can be jailed for seven years. But newborn babies, mostly girls, continue to be cast aside. Poverty and costly dowries to be paid are the main reasons parents don't want them. Baby girls are seen as a burden.
Devendra Agrawal from the Mahesh Ashram says they have cared for more than 150 babies since 2007. "Of those 150 babies, 138 have been adopted by needy parents," she says. "I am happy to say that the state government has been so impressed by our program that now it is being implemented across the entire state." Saving the lives of the most vulnerable is a program worth spreading indeed.