In a state that is infamous for sex selective abortions and female infanticide, the Ashray Palna Yojna or cradle scheme, launched by the Vasundhara Raje government just six months ago, has already saved 12 girls.
The scheme, introduced in the 2015-16 budget, permits parents to put unwanted baby girls anonymously at cradles set up at all major hospitals in the state instead of throwing them in hedges, dustbins and water bodies and exposing them to life risks.
According to the directorate of child welfare data, in last three years, 300 infants were found abandoned across the state. On July 16 this year, a newborn girl, wrapped in a cloth and still with her umbilical cord attached was found in a critical condition outside the Bharatpur’s Janana (women’s) Hospital. A week later, another infant was found abandoned in some bushes in the tribal Darod village of Udaipur district in a serious condition.
The child sex ratio in Rajasthan stands at 883 girls for every 1,000 boys, as per the 2011 Census, which is much lower than 909 girls in 2001 Census.
“Many women are forced to abandon their newborn girls because of family and social pressures. We want to save such lives. We tell society if you don’t want a girl, don’t kill her – we will take care of her,” said Devendra Agrawal, adviser to health department for the project.
“Under the scheme a cradle is kept outside the duty room of hospitals. Every time a baby is placed in the cradle, a bell rings after three minutes to give the person, who puts the child, time to leave unquestioned… We are happy to have been able to save 12 girls, who might have been killed otherwise,” Agrawal said.
The health department, so far, has identified 65 medical colleges, district and satellite hospitals for installing cradles. Fifty-five have been installed so far.
Jodhpur’s Ummed Hospital was the first to receive two girls in March. The third girl was abandoned at a government cradle in Jhalawar district hospital in April.
The abandoned newborns are taken to neonatal intensive care units for medical care and later handed over to 37 adoption agencies in the state, including two run by NGOs in Jodhpur and Udaipur, through the child welfare committees, said Reena Sharma, deputy director (child rights).
A cradle of hope
In April 2006, female foetuses found floating in Udaipur’s Fatehsagar Lake forced businessman Devendra Agrawal, now adviser to health department for the Ashray Palna Yojna, to think why girls were killed before birth. He went on to set up Mahesh Ashram at Udaipur’s Bhuwada locality and put a cradle outside it so that “unwanted” girls could be saved from being killed or abandoned in unsafe places by their families.
Agarwal also put a cradle outside MB Hospital a few months later. So far, the two cradles have received 248 girls
The concept of Ashray Palna Yojna, with the credo: ‘Phenko mat, hamein do (Don’t dump, give them to us)’, was conceived by Agarwal and he was appointed the nodal officer for the scheme by the government.