The office of the medical superintendent of Srinagar’s GB Pant Cantonment Hospital is abuzz with activity, as officials scan CCTV camera footage to identify the person who abandoned a baby girl – suffering from Down’s Syndrome – in the hospital last Saturday.
In a special paediatric ward, the baby – who according to the hospital’s pediatricians is around two to three months old – is surrounded by a mesh of electronic medical devices. Her eyes are closed and a masked nurse bottle feeds the baby.
Doctors say Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder and is associated with delays in physical growth, characteristic facial features and reduced mental growth.
In the office, the footage is carefully scanned to trace the man or woman who had kept her and vanished for good on Saturday. But the footage has not yielded any specific results. A police investigation is on and hospital authorities are clueless.
Eyewitnesses, however, have said the child was most probably left at the hospital by a woman “who seemed like her mother” at Ward No 2 of the hospital.
For the hospital, the situation is two-fold now.
Around 20 days back, the police had brought another baby boy with a large cyst on his forehead, who was abandoned at the Makhdoom Sahib shrine, to the hospital.
Paediatricians told HT that the infant boy requires a surgical intervention for the cyst, although it remains uncertain whether the operation will cure him. But the girl, they said, doesn’t require any surgery but general care throughout her life.
“We want to find credible, responsible people who can take of the children on a long time basis. We can take care of them for one month or two month or even one year… But that’s not the solution,” Dr Shafqat Khan, medical superintendent of the hospital, told HT.
“These children need to undergo surgery, be treated, and be evaluated for further treatment. The girl, suffering from Down’s Syndrome, needs to be taken care of. We want to find people who can do that.”
Several non-government organisations have come forward to assist in taking care of the children, but the matter will take a legal course, said Khan, adding that the expenditure incurred in treating the children now will be under the government’s Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK).
“Final decision regarding custody will be taken by court – whether to NGOs or families. Let the courts decide that. My mandate as of now is to take care of the children, and I’m doing that,” said Khan.
The Jammu and Kashmir high court on Tuesday directed Khan to take “all necessary steps” to look after the two abandoned infants. The court also directed the government not to abandon the two infants or hand over them to anybody without following the due legal process.
The observations were made by a division bench of the high court while hearing a public interest litigation seeking implementation of the J&K Juvenile Justice Act.
Kashmir has very few instances of children being abandoned, say authorities.
“The recent incident at the GB Pant Hospital is a rarest of rare case. Such cases do not occur in Kashmir generally,” Hashmat Ali Yattoo, director of Kashmir’s social welfare department, said.
Yattoo said the department runs around 17 homes for orphan children -- 11 for boys and 6 for girls -- in the Kashmir region and there is no record available with his department as to how many babies have been abandoned in hospitals, because “such incidents happen very rarely”.
He added as of now the children whose parents have died live in these orphanages.