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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 13:05 GMT
Changing views on female infanticide
Two small girls
Girls are often unwanted in India
By the BBC's Sampath Kumar in Madras

Officials in the Salem district of India's Tamil Nadu state say there is a new awareness among the villagers against the notorious practice of female infanticide.

Many baby girls are killed in the state's poorer districts.

So the state government has offered to adopt abandoned babies as an incentive against killing them.

On Mondays, Salem's District Collector usually receives petitions from the public on various grievances.

This Monday he was baffled to receive something completely different.

Two village couples handed over their newborn baby girls to the Collector in front of a huge crowd.

They said they could not afford to bring the babies up.

Murderous poverty

The Collector welcomed the babies as evidence that the campaign against female infanticide has started showing results.

But non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the poor districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, and Usilampatti say baby girls are still being killed there soon after being born.

Infant
The measure could save many girls

This is despite the efforts of the government and social organizations to educate the people against this vile practice.

They say the birth of a daughter is unwelcome to a poor family as they can ill-afford the traditional dowry and other marriage expenses which follow when the girl grows up.

The rate of death for baby girls minutes after they are born is still very high in Tamil Nadu.

In most cases, NGOs say that the baby is killed by the mother and buried surreptitiously with the connivance of the elders in the family.

Methods of snuffing out infant lives vary.

A grain of paddy forced into the baby's mouth, a table fan switched on at full blast turned towards the infant's face and milk from poisonous weeds fed to the baby are some techniques used.

In 1992 the Tamil Nadu Government launched an initiative called the Cradle scheme.

Saving babies

If a mother did not want a baby, she could leave her child in a cradle kept outside the Social Welfare Department clandestinely.

The government would then help raise the child. But the initiative did not evoke much response at first.

Officials say only 183 babies were received after the scheme was launched.

Two girls
Girls often face an uncertain future

After the new government headed by Ms. Jayalalitha took over in May, the scheme was revived.

In the last five months alone 47 babies have been received.

If the parents come back within two months with a change of heart, the babies are returned to them.

But so far, no one has come back to claim their baby.

The babies in the government's care are either sent to authorized adoption centres or to homes run by the state.

Only a couple of months ago, seven nine-year olds raised by the state met Ms Jayalalitha.

Officials say some of villagers are now showing greater interest in family-planning to avoid unwanted childbirths.

See also:

11 Jul 00 | South Asia
India rapped over birth bias
11 Jul 00 | South Asia
India's unwanted girls
04 May 00 | South Asia
Plea to save girl babies
24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Child marriages targeted in India
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