COIMBATORE: With the new government in the State ushering in welfare measures, the focus is back on the neglected ‘Cradle Baby Scheme’, one of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s earliest pro-girl child initiatives introduced during her first tenure in 1992.
The scheme, under which mothers who find a girl child as a burden could ‘deposit’ the baby in a cradle at Government Hospitals and Social Welfare Department offices so that the State can raise the child, was initially launched in two districts including Salem.
Effectively, this was aimed at curtailing female infanticide and abandoning of the girl child. Women from poor families found this a boon and in the first four years, as many as 136 girl babies were left in the custody of the government. However, during 1996-2001, when the DMK was in power, the scheme was given a silent burial with hardly 10 babies being found in the cradles.
During Jayalalithaa’s last stint as Chief Minister between 2001 and 2006, the scheme received attention and the effect was that nearly 2,400 girl babies, which would have otherwise been abandoned, got fresh life under the government’s care. One of the reasons for this jump in numbers was also the fact that the government had extended the scheme to all districts of Tamil Nadu and NGOs were roped in to take care of the babies.
With the AIADMK losing power five years ago, the scheme’s presence shrunk to just five districts. Now, with Jayalalithaa back at the helm, activists and Social Welfare Department officials are eagerly anticipating that the scheme would receive a boost once again.
A social welfare officer, who did not wish to be named, said “Now we no longer have cradles placed in Government Hospitals. Whenever we receive an abandoned baby from the streets, we hand over the child to one of the approved children’s homes.”
When contacted, Social Welfare Minister Selvi Ramajayam said: “We are already having a discussion about the scheme and will soon take up this with the Chief Minister for its effective implementation.”
Interestingly, civil society opinion is divided on the utility of the scheme. A few child rights activists had moved the Madras High Court to get the scheme abolished in 2008 but failed.
“The cradle baby scheme gives an official endorsement to discriminate against girl children. It encourages parents to abandon girl babies. Every child has a right to live with its biological parents and the scheme goes against it,” argued Jeeva of Campaign Against Sex Selective Abortion. He added that only around 3,700 children were saved in 20 years, which is meagre when compared to the large number of girl children being killed.
However, P Manorama, chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Chennai, countered saying that the scheme saved the child’s dignity.