India: an infant rescued on the Ganges, symptomatic of the abandonment of babies

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A boatman recovered on June 16 a small wooden box on the Ganges, near Ghazipur in northern India. Inside: a three week old baby, surrounded by religious objects. The incident, documented on video, has been widely reported, and is not uncommon in India, where abandoned babies are otherwise not always properly cared for.

Gullu Chaudhary, a boatman, was with other people on the banks of the Ganges when he heard a baby crying on June 16. The boatman jumped into the water to retrieve the box and save the life of the very little girl who was there.

The rescue was relayed on Twitter the same day.

Video posted on Twitter showing a boatman recovering the wooden box in which a baby was drifting on the Ganges, on June 16.

In the box, the baby, wrapped in a cloth, was surrounded by images of Hindu deities and incense sticks. There was also the astrological birth chart of the child, giving his date of birth, and a piece of paper with his name written on it, Ganga, the name of the Ganges in Hindi.

Gullu Chaudhary first brought the baby home, and intended to adopt her, but local authorities picked her up and took her to a shelter for women and children, then to the hospital, where examinations established that she was in good health. The government of Uttar Pradesh, the state where the case took place, assured that he would take financial responsibility for the development and education of the child.

Gullu Chaudhary was decorated by the authorities. The government of Uttar Pradesh has announced that it will see itself offer a boat, and would benefit from social benefits to make his life easier.

Photos posted on Twitter on June 17, showing Gullu Chaudhary decorated by the authorities.

Police opened an investigation. Child abandonment is illegal in India, but the phenomenon It is nonetheless widespread, especially for girls, who are more often victims of discrimination. The Indian population also shows an unbalanced ratio of 900 to 930 women per 1000 men. A result that can be attributed to abortions decided on because of the sex of the child, to abandonments, ifanticides or to neglect from which girls suffer more.

“In general, we hear about children abandoned in the garbage cans, in the toilets, in the streets.”

Mirti Gupta is the co-founder and president of the NGO Where Are India’s Children? (WAIC), which seeks to help the most vulnerable abandoned and orphaned children enter the legal adoption system. According to her, the case of the baby of the Ganges is unique, but not the phenomenon of abandonment:

Unfortunately, we see this kind of news every few weeks, or even several times a week. What’s interesting here is that it seems like a very formal affair: someone took the time to wrap the baby in a cloth, in a certain way, to put it in a box in a certain way, to perhaps place this gesture in a religious context. In general, we hear about children abandoned in the garbage cans, in the toilets, in the streets.

Child abandonment concerns a large number of strata of society: there are cases of children abandoned because of short-lived adventures, children abandoned because someone did not want a girl, people who cannot not manage one more child… What is most unfortunate is that you do not have to abandon a child in India today: a law allows parents to anonymously abandon their child in an agency of ‘adoption. But very few people know this law, it is what gives these cruel abandonments.

In 2020, 65 abandoned babies were also found in Uttar Pradesh, of which only 32 survived. According to the authorities, the lockdowns linked to Covid-19 have complicated the possibility of finding abandoned babies in time. As for those who survive, they may be trafficked for children, or spend their lives in a shelter.

“The best scenario is that the child is found quickly”

“Above all, you have to know that an abandoned child will have mental and physical consequences. Physical, because it is subject to the vagaries of the weather, there is a risk of meeting animals and contracting infections. The mental impact is linked to spending hours, days alone, crying, with no one coming to help.

Then the question is whether the abandoned child will be able to enter the adoption process. They can be collected by shelters which in fact do not put them in this process, and the child stays until he is 18 in the shelter and then finds himself alone. We have seen articles relating to the fact that fairly well-known shelters here have made it clear that they want to keep the children rather than putting them in the organized adoption system.

The best scenario for an abandoned child is that they are taken to the hospital for tests and then placed in the system for adoption.

The Covid-19 pandemic has helped increase the number of orphaned and abandoned children in India. According to the national commission for the protection of children’s rights, more than 30,000 children have lost their parents since April 2020, among which the number of dropouts, 274, remains relatively low. But the exact number of child abandonment in India is impossible to assess.

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