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Fall in female infanticide, thanks to rise in awareness

By S. Prasad

DHARMAPURI, NOV.4. Intensive counselling, awareness campaigns and strict enforcement measures by the district administration against female infanticide have drastically brought down the number of abandoned babies at the cradle baby centre from 207 in 2003 to 133 in 2004.

Since its inception on April 13, 2002, the cradle baby centre at the Dharmapuri Government Hospital received 498 babies, of which 473 were girls. All infants were saved from certain death. As many as 21 suspected cases of female infanticide were reported in the district this year.

Series of strategies

Given the magnitude of the problem in Dharmapuri, a series of strategies is being employed by the district administration to curb the social evil.

The cradle baby scheme has given parents, who do not want a female child, an option to reconsider their decision, leaving the child at the centre.

Simultaneously, the enforcement system has been strengthened by taking action against erring parents, a measure that resulted in a massive fall in female infanticide rate. Suspected cases of female infanticide, around 800 in 1999, have now come down to 21.

Constant watch

By undertaking a survey of high-risk mothers, the district administration took the services of village health nurses (VHNs) due to the high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR). The nurses keep tab on pregnant women and provide them assistance.

Families having two girls or a physically challenged child are under watch. Nurses make it known to the high-risk families that they are being watched.

Doctors at primary health centres, in association with VHNs, regularly counsel parents to go for family planning. Thanks to counselling, more and more households are responding, said sources from the Department of Health and Welfare Services.

Awareness programmes are regularly conducted through block-level extension workers, who, through mass contact programmes, stress the importance of the girl child.

Preference for boys

Sources in the district administration said the main reason for abandoning children at the centre was the strong preference for a male child.

The third or the fourth child, they said, was the most vulnerable if it turned out to be female. Children of women deserted by their husbands and those born out of wedlock were also regularly abandoned at the centre. Interestingly, 25 male babies were also abandoned.

Counselling is provided to parents for two months, during which period parents take back their child.

The counselling sessions have been a success, as more people are willing to take back their children.

Twentysix abandoned babies have been taken back by their parents, the sources said.

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