A Cradle Baby Scheme was established by the Tamil Nadu, India state government in 1992 as a means to combat the problem of female infanticide in certain areas of the state. At the time, studies reported that there were about 3,000 cases of femal infanticide yearly in Tamil Nadu which approached 20% of all female infant deaths in the State.
Tamil Nadu launched the Cradle Baby Scheme under which parents could leave babies in cradles at government-designated reception centers. The Scheme started in centers in Salem, Madurai, Theni and Dindigul, the areas most notorious in Tamil Nadu for female infanticide. The scheme extended throughout the state and reception centers were set up in every district at major government hospitals and other sites.
In 1994 the State began arresting parents charged with female infanticide under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder). That year, an estimated 100 such cases were registered, resulting in a few life sentences.
As of June 1, 2007, the government had received 2,589 children through the Baby Cradle Scheme. Though the Scheme was established in 1992, most of the children, 2,495, were surrendered/abandoned through the Scheme after the year 2000.
On March 29, 2008, Renuka Chowdhury, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development, issued a press release stating that baby reception centers would be set up in every district in the country of India. A country-wide Cradle Baby Scheme was to have been inaugurated in December 2007 but has been postponed purportedly due to a lack of funds. R. Smitha, managing director of the Puducherry Corporation for Development of Women, indicates that the nationwide program now will be launched during 2009-2010.
A special report in March 2008 by Tehelka Magazine outlines major criticisms of the Baby Cradle Scheme:
Lack of Records for Cradle Babies. The first children adopted out of the Cradle Baby Scheme would now be about 15-16 years old. But there is no information available about these children and whether the Scheme has benefited them. No records have been kept for these children and no one in the government knows what happened to these children after they were handed over to adoption agencies. In addition, although in many cases the identity of the surrendering parents are known, this information is not available for the babies who are abandoned through the Cradle Baby Scheme.
Mortality Rate of Cradle Babies. As of June 1, 2007, 404 of the 2,589 babies received under the scheme died. According to P Phavalam, project officer at the Society for Integrated Rural Development in Madurai, the infant mortality rate in Tamil Nadu is 31, but it is 162 for the cradle babies.
Relationship between Cradle Baby Scheme and the Proliferation of Unmonitored Adoption Agencies. Organizations such as the Integrated Rural Development are opposed to the Cradle Baby Scheme. They assert that the cradle babies have turned out to be an unending source of supply for adoption agencies in the State. A social worker at Peace Society in Coimbature estimates that 75% of the nearly 140 babies they had given for adoption were cradle babies. As of November 2003, 27 of the 45 babies housed at Concorde House of Jesus and 19 of the 46 children at Guild of Service were cradle babies. Critics say that the cradle babies give the adoption agencies recognition and acceptance for their activities “without excessive monitoring and interference.” It is felt that the pressure on the Department of Social Welfare to rehabilitate the babies under the Cradle Baby Scheme has made them more flexible towards the agencies and their practices.
It appears that the proliferation of adoption agencies in Tamil Nadu is intricately linked to the Cradle Baby Scheme. Between 2002 and 2006, the time frame when the government revived the Cradle Baby Scheme and extended it to all districts, the number of adoption agencies doubled from 11 to 23. In 2005, a four-month study on the functioning of adoption agencies in the State prompted by the exposure of a kidnapping and sale racket of approximately 350 children, found that there was “big competition” among adoption agencies to get babies from the Cradle Baby Scheme. It also found that these agencies received large donations from prospective adoptive parents. According to the report, “We were told these donations are not accounted for and could range from Rs. 50,000 (approximately USD $1,254) to Rs. 2 lakh (approximately USD $5,015).
Questions about Welfare of Cradle Babies. With the lack of oversight over cradle babies who have been transferred to adoption agencies comes concern over their welfare. In November 2006, a five year old cradle baby in Attur had been found to have been tortured by her adoptive parents with around 300 burns and injuries on her body. As a result, the Tamil Nadu government ordered a study on the status of children put for adoption, but its findings have not been made public. Some call on the government to require annual agency reports of the child’s welfare until the child turns 18.
Questions about Cradle Babies Placed in Inter-Country Adoption. As of January 1, 2007, 1,472 cradle babies were adopted within India and 115 were adopted outside the country. Some opposed to the Cradle Baby Scheme are concerned that the cradle babies internationally adopted are growing up in an alien culture contrary to the subsidiarity principles set forth by the 1989 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the 1993 Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption. A. Renganathan, director of the Salem-based NGO Village Reconstruction and Development Project asks, “Can the government establish that no Indian parent was willing to adopt any of those 115 children?”
Questionable Impact of the Cradle Baby Scheme on Female Infanticide Rates. Female infanticide rates have not decreased. According to M. Shankar, convenor of the Tamil Nadu chapter of the Campaign Against Negligence of Girl-Child, “Dharmapuri’s sex ratio in the 0-6 age-group is 877 compared to the state’s ratio of 939. Similarly, the female infanticide rate is 73 against the state’s rate of 55.” A. Renganathan says that some parents prefer to kill unwanted girl children rather than handing the children over to the government saying, “It causes grief for a few days, then it’s over. To hand over the child for adoption would give them life-long worry.”
The Cradle Baby Scheme Legitimizes Traditional Discrimination Against Female Children.
Instead of alleviating discrimination against females, critics charge that the Cradle Baby Scheme actually reinforces it. For example, the highest number of babies received under the Scheme were in Dharmapuri. The Scheme was launched in Dharmapuri in 2002. By February 27, 2008, the reception center at the Dharmapuri government hospital received 1,044 babies. According to the director of the center, only 41 of the 1,044 babies were male and most of these males had some disability. Thus, critics say, the message is clear that male babies are abandoned only if they have a disability, whereas a girl is dumped because of her gender.
Lack of Adequate Funding for the Cradle Baby Scheme. The Tamil Nadu government has not allocated sufficient funding to the Cradle Baby Scheme. According to the Social Welfare Department, funding has ranged between Rs. 6 lakh (approximately USD $15,045) and Rs. 12 lakh (approximately USD $30,090). Activists allege that the Scheme is poorly funded and there is no exclusive staff devoted to operating it. As a result, there are no people on hand at the various reception centers to counsel parents who come to surrender their children.
The Cradle Baby Scheme Leaves Other Alternatives Unexplored. The group Social Movement Against Female Infant Mortality recently urged the government to suggest alternative schemes to save female babies. The group suggested that it provide more financial assistance to girls in the family. For example, a marriage assistance scheme provides Rs. 15,000 (approximately USD $376) to one girl in a family. If this assistance could be extended to other girls in the family, it could bring about a change in attitude it says. In Mettur, Salem district, the Welfare Centre for Women and Children, has come up with a new program that identifies pregnant women and places those who have two or more girl children in a high risk category who are then closely monitored. The director, R. Sampath, says this close watch has had an effect on reducing female infanticide.
“The Cradle Babies,” by Asha Krishnakumar, Frontline, Vol 22, Issue 11, June 3, 2005.
“Where Do Rejected Little Girls Go…”, by PC Vinoj Kumar, Tehelka, Vol. 5, Issue 12, March 29, 2008.
“In the Interest of the Mother and the Child,” by Khushboo, Tehelka, Vol. 5, Issue 12, March 29, 2008.
“Killer Districts” by PC Vinoj Kumar, Tehelka, Vol. 5, Issue 12, March 29, 2008.