ASHA S. MENON

It is a national emergency, declared Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Child Welfare Development, last month. Alarmed by a drop in the sex ratio and increasing female foeticide, the Central Government is considering a cradle scheme. A crèche has been proposed in every district so that parents can leave their unwanted babies in them. Tamil Nadu launched a cradle baby scheme in 1992 in Salem and later extended it to other districts. We asked a few women in the city what they think about the Central Government's proposed scheme.

Demeaning Throwing girl babies out of their homes is demeaning to women. Instead of encouraging families to abandon their babies, the Government should have schemes to improve the social status of women and empower them. Female infanticide continues in Salem and Dharmapuri, where cradle baby schemes have long been implemented. In 2004, when I did a survey, I found many adoption agencies using this scheme to run "baby shops". These agencies hand out babies to desperate couples and seem to revel in it. Yes, many agencies do look after the babies well, but there is no follow up on where each baby went. The Department of Social Welfare should focus on empowerment, not charity.Sujatha Mody
Malarchi, Women's Resource CentrePiece of a wholeThe scheme should be a small part of a larger programme. It should be adopted only as the last resort and after a lot of counselling. The long-term solution is to have schemes such as educational scholarships that will help parents keep the babies with them. Many parents want to keep their children, provided they get adequate support. The 60 days given to relinquishing mothers to change their mind is also essential. Many change their mind if they see the babies often. Also, the reception centres should be equipped with support services like paediatric care. Adoption agencies cannot be accused of running a racket, because the Government is promoting it. If not for the agencies, we would have more deaths. Today, female foeticide is more of a threat than infanticide. We need to strictly enforce the 1994 PDNT law (that banned ultra-sound scanning for sex determination). Andal Damodaran
Chairperson, Indian Council for Child WelfareBaby boonThe cradle baby scheme has helped reduce female infanticide and for this, it is a good policy. It does not encourage parents to surrender their children since under this scheme, the welfare home counsels parents on the benefits of keeping their child before giving permission to leave it behind. We have restored 34 girl babies to their biological parents since 2002. Without this scheme, illegal adoptions would be possible and abortion would be widespread. Since 2002, KKSS has received hundreds of babies, 95 per cent of whom are female. I believe that if the Government were to come forward and help poverty-stricken parents who have more than two female babies, then the rate of surrendered girl babies would decrease drastically. Until then, we need a solution that gives abandoned or surrendered babies a hopeful chance at a good life. Ranjini Devi
Kalaiselvi Karunalaya Social Welfare SocietyHead in the cloudsIt is a romantic ideal. Parents imagine the State taking care of their babies, but in reality the State provides only reception centres. The babies are taken over by private adoption agencies and there is no monitoring done. When a baby is made available for adoption, in the normal course, the details of the person giving away the child is taken down. But in the cradle baby scheme, anyone can leave children behind and agencies put them up for adoption. Sometimes missing babies end up being adopted by other parents. In such cases, they are locked in a tussle. The State is responsible for the rehabilitation of orphans. But this should be totally designed and implemented by the State. Without monitoring, children are vulnerable to trafficking. Geetha Devarajan
Advocate and Director of Human Rights Law NetworkTackle the mindsetThe Government policies should encourage parents to keep girl children. This scheme is disrespectful to women. In Salem and Dharmapuri, a girl is considered a curse and a boy, a boon. It is this mindset that the Government should change. Otherwise couples will keep having babies till they get a boy, and give the unwanted ones to the Government. The argument that it will help unwed mothers is not valid because I know many such mothers who move heaven and earth to keep their babies. Parimala
Secretary, MalarchiUnborn girlsFoeticide is more prevalent and so where will the babies come from for the cradles. Ideologically, the scheme reinforces the wrong idea that daughters are a burden and can be given away. A short-term, immediate action could be to arrest unethical medical practitioners and curb female foeticide. As a long-term measure, we should plan and implement a programme to bring to light a positive image of daughters.Sharada Srinivasan
Author of "Daughter Elimination in Tamil Nadu, India"My girlI will not give up my girl child, no matter how difficult it gets.Rajeshwari Loganathan
Exnora staff

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