Although Tamil Nadu government has been running schemes with an aim to curb female infanticide, such cases are on the rise in the state.
Shanti Priya/ Chennai
There was a pall gloom in Bhanumathi's home after she delivered a baby girl. Her husband, an autorickshaw driver, came to his wife's home and left with a long face. In the evening, an elderly woman one of her relatives came and asked her what she was going to do about the child. She told Bhanumathi that since she already has a girl child, it won't be prudent for her to grow the child.
Bhanumathi did not feed her child since birth. The old lady came with a potion - sap of oleander and caster oil - and forced it down the baby's throat. The baby shivered and died soon after.
Female infanticide is a criminal offence, still hundreds of girl children are killed mercilessly in the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu and north Indian states like Punjab and Haryana.
Despite high literacy rates and other human development indicators, Tamil Nadu continues to be among the states that top female infanticide cases. The state government had taken many measures to curb the menace. However, the scourge continues to prevail in rural areas.
Dharmapuri district in the state had once reported highest number of female infanticide cases. Although statistics show that the cases have come down NGO activists say many communities still practice this heinous crime.
According to available statistics, 48 female children were done to death in the area in 2003. According to a recent health survey, female sex ratio (in the 0-6 age group) is 878 for 1,000 males in Dharmapuri while the national average is 938 females for 1,000 males.
According to C Sevathan, Project Manger of SEARCH, "Socio-economic factors such as dowry and the preference for a male child in a patriarchal society are the main causes of infanticide and foeticide." The female sex ratio is rapidly decreasing. To eradicate female infanticide and foeticide, SEARCH, in association with like-minded NGOs, has taken up an awareness programme in Karimangalam block.
"Cultural programmes and dramas are held in every village on female infanticide with the slogan `Caring of women from womb to tomb' and not to discriminate the birth of a girl child."
As a first step panchayat health workers and coordinators undertake a survey of high-risk pregnant women in their villages. A special committee has been formed to keep a close watch on pregnant women. Through a multilevel approach health workers, in association with village administrative officers and nurses, create awareness among pregnant women on the dangers of infanticide. They keep a watch on women from the conception stage and interact closely with the couple and motivate them to drop the idea of terminating pregnancy, if the child is a girl.
Sevathan said, "Counselling is also provided to family members and continuous monitoring of the family is done on pregnant women till delivery takes place." A committee for the prevention of female infanticide conducts public meetings and creates awareness among people in every panchayat. Although these health workers and sangam members saved many girl children from the jaws of death many cases go unreported as the families migrate to the neighbouring States.
Kandhai, who planned to kill her third girl child, has given it for adoption after counselling. She feels that only the pathetic condition of her family had compelled her to take the extreme step of killing her child.
If the family does not want a girl child then provisions are being made for legal adoption and the cradle baby centre is only considered as a last preference says a health worker. Panchayat health workers and sangam members also encourage women with two female children to go in for a family planning operation as this would enable them receive Rs. 12,500 in fixed deposit for both the children.
According to sources, "The rapidly increasing and widespread availability of modern scientific devices and technologies such as ultrasonography and MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) has led to widespread misuse."
The Department of Health has also given strict instructions to private scanning centres that they can divulge only the well-being of the baby and cannot determine the sex, which is punishable with two years imprisonment.
The 'cradle baby' scheme, a brainchild of chief minister Jayalalithaa, will be extended to Cuddalore, Ariyalur, Perambalur, Villupuram and Tiruvannamalai districts as the 2011 census has revealed a fall in the child sex ratio in these districts.
"The figures are causing concern," Jayalalithaa said. She added that female infanticide and foeticide could be the reason for this trend in these districts.
Cradle baby centres will be set up at a cost of Rs. 47.45 lakh and each centre will have a superintendent, an assistant nurse, an assistant and other workers.
The centres will have adequate stock of milk powder, medicine and clothes. Besides, cradles will be placed at hospitals, primary health centres and children homes to receive girl children.
She said the cradle baby scheme, launched in Salem district in 1992 with a view to eradicating female infanticide, was later extended to Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Dharmapuri, Erode and Namakkal districts in 2001 when she became Chief Minister of the State for the second time.
As many as 188 centres in these districts were equipped with incubators, life-saving drugs, refrigerators, gas connections, bed sheets and clothes for children. The government also organised camps, seminars and conferences to create awareness of female infanticide.
"The scheme was appreciated not just in India, but across the world. Many girls were saved from the clutches of death and were later given in adoption; they grew up in families and received good education and are leading a prosperous life," he said.
Jayalalithaa said that so far 3,200 girls and 582 boys had been rescued. Subsequently, 2,088 girls and 372 boys were given in adoption in the country and another 170 girls and 27 boys were in foreign countries. Non-resident Indians adopted 13 girls and 5 boys. A total of 160 children were handed over to their parents.
She said the scheme and the awareness created by the government had had the desired effect in these districts. The child sex ratio in the State was 1000:942 as per the 2001 census and the figure became 1000: 946 in 2011 census. But Cuddalore, Perambalur, Ariyalur, Villupuram and Tiruvannamalai witnessed a negative trend.