The cradle babies
At an adoption centre in Salem.
IN 1992, the Tamil Nadu government started the Cradle Baby Scheme primarily in response to reports of female infanticide in certain pockets of the State. Studies showed that there were about 3,000 cases of female infanticide every year in Tamil Nadu, adding up to a fifth of all female infant deaths in the State. The government launched the cradle scheme under which parents who did not wish to keep their girl babies could leave them in cradles kept at government reception centres. It was started with one reception centre each in Salem, Madurai, Theni, and Dindigul, areas most notorious for female infanticide. In April 2001, it was extended to the whole of Tamil Nadu - reception centres, totalling 188, were set up at all PHCs and major government hospitals.
According to the recent report, "Adoption Agencies and Institutional Practices in Tamil Nadu: A sociological study," by Sujata Mody of the Chennai-based Malarchi Women's Resource Centre, from April 2001 to October 2003, the scheme received 1,071 babies. About 10 per cent of them were male. Finding the expense and burden too great and also as the infants could not be cared for adequately in these conditions, the government decided to rehabilitate them through adoption.
This scheme came as a boon to the adoption agencies as it ensured a regular supply of children. For instance, 27 of the 45 babies (November 2003) housed in the Concorde House of Jesus and 19 of the 46 at the Guild of Service were cradle babies. The Institute of Franciscan Sisters has received 55 cradle babies since 2001. In 2003, of the 29 babies the Institute gave in adoption, 18 were sourced through the cradle baby scheme.
Most agencies now have a girl baby glut; they receive them from the DSW or the District Social Welfare Officer who simply call the agencies to "collect the babies." All licensed agencies are offered cradle babies by turn and no institution has turned down the offer, yet.
For the adoption agencies, government cradle babies give them a certification, recognition, and acceptance of their activities without "excessive monitoring and interference." The Madras Social Service Guild, whose licence was under suspension from 1999 till 2001, has received more than 81 cradle babies in less than two years. The pressure on the DSW to rehabilitate the babies under the cradle scheme has made them more flexible towards the agencies. It appears to be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
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