Tip of the iceberg: the grim tale of India’s unwanted and abandoned babies
Though there are policies in place for ‘safe surrender’ of unwanted babies, the reality on the ground is bleak. The numbers, officials admit, do not tell the whole story
The lockdown made it easier to abandon newborn babies, says Meera Bharati, co-founder of ‘Where Are India’s Children’. She was explaining the reason behind the spurt in the number of abandoned babies found in 2020 in the six states of Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.
“With everything shut down, it was possibly more difficult to abort and easier to give birth and abandon the babies,” she reasons. With people not venturing outdoors, it made it easier to abandon the babies on roadsides, in ditches, leave them in garbage heaps or by the side of ponds.
Many of the abandoned babies in the six states failed to survive. In her own home state of Telangana, she informs, the survival rate of abandoned babies is higher because people tend to leave them at temples or places where they are easily found and rescued. The babies are then brought up in childcare homes and put up for adoption.
But in the Hindi heartland states, the systems remain weak and supervision of creches or childcare homes is lax or non-existent.
The numbers are the tip of the iceberg, quips former Chief Secretary of Jharkhand Sanjay Kumar. The scale of abandoned babies, he believes, is much higher than the numbers suggest. Many of the babies are never found; many are just picked up and taken away and do not get reported. Some are dragged away by wild animals and birds of prey. The numbers hide much more than they reveal.
Available records indicate that between January and November, 2020, 154 abandoned babies were officially recovered in the six states. As many as 65 are reported to be male children but the gender of almost as many, 67 to be precise, intriguingly could not be identified.
Significantly, in five of the six states the number of girls abandoned were two or three times higher than boys. But in Jharkhand 30 female and 24 male babies were recovered. But the survival rate of the recovered babies in Jharkhand was the lowest. Experts believe this is because of inadequate public health system and delay in the hospitalisation of the babies.
Some experts also believe that male babies generally display far less instinct and fighting spirit for survival than females. And a high number of male babies abandoned in Jharkhand might explain the higher mortality rate in the state.
There are policies in place for ‘safe surrender’ of unwanted babies. There is also provision on paper of cradles but which are non-existent in most districts. Some which were started were shut down. Nor are public health workers sensitised or trained to deal with abandoned babies.
Member of the Children Welfare Committee at Palwal (Haryana), Alpana claimed that abandoned babies are found more in the districts of Sonipat, Kaithal, Karnal, Panipat and Hisar. In Palwal only one abandoned baby was found last year and she was found wrapped in a blanket and left at the gate of the Childcare Home. Haryana however has reported the recovery of 33 abandoned babies during this period. Only 12 of them were alive at the time of recovery.
CWC member at Hardoi (Uttar Pradesh) on the other hand claimed that because of the lockdown only one baby was found abandoned compared to the annual average of four to five before the lockdown. Uttar Pradesh however reported recovery of 65 abandoned babies, only 32 of them alive.
“It is a serious issue but obviously not a priority with either the central or the state governments,” concedes a bureaucrat. Surely a better and safe system can be ensured for unwanted babies ?