A government scheme to install cradles at hospitals across the state to allow parents to put unwanted infants has saved 35 newborns in less than a year. Twenty-five of them are girls.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje announced, in her 2015-16 budget speech, Ashray Palna Sthal Yojna to instal 65 cradles at medical college, district, satellite and sub-district hospitals to save newborns abandoned by their parents, and often thrown in hedges, dustbins and water bodies, exposing them to life risks.
The directorate of child welfare data shows that 350 infants were found abandoned across the state in the last three years. According to the 2011 Census, the child sex ratio in Rajasthan — infamous for female infanticide — stands at 883 girls for every 1,000 boys, as against 909 girls in 2001.
The scheme was launched to give women, who forsake newborns because of family and social pressures, a safe option of abandoning the babies, said Devendra Agarwal, adviser to the health department and in-charge of the scheme.
“We don’t want newborns to die if their mothers can’t raise them,” he added.
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.
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).
- In April 2006, female foetuses found floating in Udaipur’s Fatehsagar Lake prompted businessman Devendra Agrawal, now adviser to the health department for the Ashray Palna Yojna, to thik why girls were killed before birth. He set up Mahesh Ashram locality and put a cradle outside it so that "unwanted" girls could be saved from being killed or abandoned.
- Agarwal also put a cradle outside MB Hospital a few months later. The two cradles have received 248 girls.
- The concept of Ashray Palna Yojna was conceived by Agarwal. The government made him the nodal officer for the scheme.
After the installation of cradles, the 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. Until February 15, 25 girls and 10 boys have been safely abandoned at 22 cradles, the cradles at Nyaypura in Kota getting a maximum of four in three months (September to November, 2016).
Agarwal said many of the newborns are sick when abandoned and some fail to survive despite the best medical care provided to them. Of the 35 newborns received at government cradles, nine died during treatment. Seven of them were girls.
“Against the general perception that only baby girls are abandoned, the cradles received 10 boys,” he said.