All hospitals in West Bengal could soon have ‘baby drop boxes’ installed at its gates if it heeds the advice of the state’s women welfare minister Sabitri Mitra. The minister also expressed her consternation at the practice of Indian children being adopted by foreigners claiming they were being used as ‘guinea pigs’.
Abandoning babies, particularly girls is fairly common in our country especially in the northern states and perhaps the minister believes this move would dissuade people from abandoning infants in garbage vats, railway stations or other public places and will help in the babies’ rehabilitation. Mitra told a press conference she had placed the proposal before child welfare minister Shyama Pada Mukherjee and admitted that the idea wasn’t entirely an original one but was inspired by a TV serial.
Mitra elaborated that people who felt the need to abandon their new born babies at the box or cradle near the hospital gates, ring a bell that would alert the authorities and leave. She didn’t go into logistics like where exactly the cradle would be placed, who would guard them or how the children’s rehabilitation will take place.
Considering the West Bengal government’s health care fund status coupled with its staff shortage this plan seems extremely difficult to envisage. Another worry is that this plays right into the hands of illegal adoption rackets.
The Central Adoption Resource Authority has asked adoption centres to have such a system so that children don’t get infections but in overcrowded state hospitals, the challenge of installing and maintaining baby drop boxes would be steep.
Sheemantika Nag, chairperson of Atmaja, an association for adoptive parents, said many hospitals already have secret arrangements made between doctors, nurses, other staff and people keen to have children (who don’t want to go through the legal adoptive procedure). “A lot of illegal adoption already takes place. Under the circumstances, if such a system is introduced in hospitals, it may only benefit touts and the rackets that already exist,” Nag said.
According to former member of the state Women’s Commission, Bharati Mutsuddi, introducing such a system in hospitals will lead to criminal activities related to adoption. “Already such rackets exist in hospitals. But how will it help if babies are dropped in hospitals? Ultimately, they have to be taken to adoption centres,” she said.
Mitra also bizarrely spoke out against adoption by foreign nationals and had recently squashed initiatives by adoption agencies to send 21 children to different countries. Asked why she had done so, Mitra said, “I wondered why people in other countries wanted to adopt our children. They must be using these children as guinea pigs for some tests.” The number of in-country adoption in 2009 has been 214 and inter-country adoption was 62. Inter-country adoption was higher the year before that, at 116.
Chairperson of the state Commission for Women Sunanda Mukherjee was not available for comment. State Human Rights Commission chairperson Ashok Ganguly didn’t want to comment “without knowing the details of the minister’s proposal”.
India.com Health view
The proposal is downright bizarre, has no clear plan of execution and seems more like a populist sentiment to target the issue of infant abandonment. In a country obsessed with boys, many girls are abandoned at public places but other variables like socio-economic conditions also come into play. This move suggests that in some way the West Bengal government is supporting abandoning babies and providing an outlet for people to do so. The need of the hour is to target the real issue - the reason children are being abandoned – and not provide an outlet for people to do so.