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Jharkhand sees rise in abandoned infants as lack of awareness, stigma lead mothers to dump unwanted babies by roadside

Eighteen-year-old Anita (name changed) of Gumla district in Jharkhand delivered a beautiful baby girl at the Civil Hospital in Gurugram on 31 May. But, though Anita has agreed to breastfeed the baby, she refuses to keep and raise the child as her own.

Anita was impregnated after being raped at a household in Gurugram. The accused, who was employed as a cook at the residence Anita worked in, fled after Anita’s pregnancy became visible. Anita was taken to the hospital by her employers, who also filed an FIR against the accused. After delivering her baby, Anita refused to even take a look at her face. "I don’t want it. What will people in my village say? I will never get married," was all she said. Anita is just one among several single mothers in Jharkhand who opt to abandon their babies fearing victimisation due to social stigma.

 Jharkhand sees rise in abandoned infants as lack of awareness, stigma lead mothers to dump unwanted babies by roadside

Representational image. Reuters

Data collected by the Ashrayani Foundation, an NGO, under its Paa Lo Naa initiative, a drive against infanticide and abandonment of children, states that 121 children were found abandoned in Jharkhand since 2016 till May this year. Of them, 63 were dead. While in 2016, 29 children were found abandoned, in 2017, the number went up to 65. This year, till May, 27 abandoned children were found.

While this data shows the number of cases where children were abandoned on roadsides or other places, instances of mothers surrendering their children for adoption, also remains high across the state.

"On an average, we get at least three to five cases every month, of women who want to surrender their babies," said Srikant Kumar, a member of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Ranchi.

In most cases where children are abandoned, the mothers are unmarried and the child is a product of either rape of a failed love affair.

"I have come across several women who want to surrender their children. In most cases, the child is either born as a result of rape or out of a love affair, where the girl's lover refuses to accept both the child and the mother," said Sita Swansi of Diya Seva Sansthan, a local NGO working with women.

"There are also cases in which women are trafficked outside the state where they get raped and become pregnant. When they return home, the fear of society forces them to abandon the child," she said.

Srikant said that in many cases where a child is surrendered, it is not the mother, but her guardians who force them to give away the baby. "This happens mostly in the case of minor girls, aged between 14 and 17. Parents of such mothers say that the child would become a burden for their daughter as she will not be able to live a normal life," he said.

"Even when the girl is ready to keep the child, her parents force her to give it away because it would create problems in getting her married," Srikant added.

Citing an incident where a girl was forced to abandon her baby due to societal pressure, Swansi said, "The girl was forced by her parents to abandon her child because it was born out of wedlock. I was counselling that girl when another woman with her baby entered the room. The girl was so desperate to just hold that baby once. I could see the pain of losing her child in her eyes."

Swansi added that till people do not stop victim-shaming, such incidents would continue to be reported. "The family members of the victim start shaming her. As a result, she is left with no option but to abandon her child, even if she is unwilling. It is high time that people understand that a girl does not become pregnant by her own fault. If the family of the girl supports her, she would never have to abandon her child," she said.

However, Srikant pointed out that there have been instances where the mother and her guardians have accepted to keep their children after being counselled by CWC members.

But, only those who are aware of the option of being able to surrender a child approach the CWC. Several others, who are unaware of such provisions and are unwilling to reveal their identities dump their children on roadsides.

"There are several women who come from interior villages and are unaware about the provision of being able to surrender their child. Fearing social stigma attached to having a child while unmarried, they abandon the infants," said Swansi. Srikant said that only 50 percent of children abandoned on roadsides are able to survive. In order to prevent the death of such children, the CWC has directed adoption centres to open a crèche in front of their homes where women can come and leave their children unanimously, instead of dumping them on roadsides to die.

Srikant added that in cases where the CWC rescues abandoned children, they issue an advertisement in local papers and waits for two months for the legal guardian to come and claim the child. If no one approaches them within that time, the CWC declares the child legally free of adoption and gives it to adoption homes.

Monika Gunjan Arya, convenor of Paa Lo Na that has been working actively to prevent mothers from abandoning their children, since 2015, by creating awareness through media, exhibitions and nukkad nataks, said, "A massive awareness drive is needed in order to stop the abandonment of newborn babies. Aware people should spread awareness among those who do not have any knowledge about the facility of surrendering a child so that the child’s life can be saved."

Questioning the role being played by police in preventing such cases, Arya pointed out that not a single case under IPC sections 315 (infanticide) and 317 (exposure and abandonment of children) were registered in 2016.

"The NCRB 2016 data shows that zero cases were registered under infanticide or exposure and abandonment in the state, while the CWC has been getting several such cases. I have a compiled data of such cases as well," she said.

Arya added that till the police do not start registering FIRs in such cases, the matter will not come out in public and will never be considered a problem. "When an FIR is registered, an investigation would be done and the real reason behind the abandonment of children can be found out. Once we reach the root of the problem, only then can we uproot it," she said.

The author is a member of The Newscart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 20:32:25 IST

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