In India’s patriarchal society, there’s a cultural tendency to favour boys.
It’s what leads hundreds of parents each year to abandon their newborn baby girls.
One initiative, ‘Cradles for Unwanted Babies’, is fighting the trend, hoping to save the abandoned newborns and find them new homes.
Jasvinder Sehgal traveled to the city of Udaipur to find out more.
I’m at the reception desk of the city hospital in Udaipur.
There are doctors and 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 toward 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 the 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,” Kumari said.
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.”
“The babies look so cute, innocent and beautiful. Some are even one day old, while the others are 3 to 4 days old,” Suhalka tells me.
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.
“We started the cradle program in the year 2011 with the objective of trying to get people to give their babies to us, instead of abandoning them,” Deora said.
“I have just received this baby and now will file a police report. After the girl is legally free, we will work to find a family to adopt her,” concluded Deora.
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.
Pankaj Saldaar is her father.
“Our life has changed after adopting our daughter. Adoption should be encouraged because it not only helps the abandoned children but also gives new life to childless parents,” Saldaar told me.
Ria Saladaar is Jainel’s mother. She tells me she is deeply grateful she was able to adopt, that Janiel 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 dowry are the main reasons that 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.
The initiative has gone so well that it has caught the attention of the government.
“Of 150 babies, 138 have been adopted by needy parents after completing legal formalities. I am happy to share that the state government has been so impressed by our scheme that now it is being implemented across the entire state,” stated Agrawal.
“As part of this cradles have been set-up at different places for parents to anonymously leave their unwanted babies,” he said.
According to India’s women and child development department, almost 2,000 girls are killed every day, with many slain before, or just after their birth.
The ‘Cradles for unwanted babies’ scheme can’t save them all, but it has saved many lives so far.