A 15-day-old girl child was found dead in a sewage canal in Hyderabad, in the Jeedimetla industrial area. Residents who saw the body and alerted the authorities are reported to have told the police that they saw a woman, roughly 35, suspiciously moving near the nala in the evening.
Police are now examining footage from CCTV cameras, to get more details in the case, but activists say that this is not an isolated incident. In fact, 11 infants have been murdered in the past three months, most of them girls.
"Incidents of infanticide have become very common in the state and 11 such cases of throwing infants in sewers, bushes and tanks have taken place in and around Hyderabad over the past three months," Balala Hakkula Sangam (BHS), a child rights organization, said in a statement. The organisation has pointed a finger at social norms that blame women for being unwed mothers as the reason for the killings.
While the police has filed cases in all 11 instances, BHS has also demanded that the ‘Ooyala’, or cradle baby scheme, be reinstated in the state to stop infanticide. "The scheme was first introduced when Renuka Chowdhary was the Women and Child Development Minister; a cradle is kept at village level Anganwadi Centres, and parents who cannot raise a child can anonymously leave them in the cradle," says Achyuta Rao, a member of the BHS.
"The state would then take care of the child under WCD ministry, thus saving a child from death. However, over the last few years, it has totally ignored this scheme, and diverted the funds for other things," he adds.
The scheme, which was first introduced in 2007, sought to stop infanticide and improve the child sex ratio, which currently stands at a dismal 914 girls per 1000 boys. "What we are saying to the people is have your children, don’t kill them. And if you don’t want a girl child, leave her to us… We will bring up the children. But don’t kill them because there really is a crisis situation. It is a matter of international and national shame for us that India with a growth of nine percent still kills its daughters," Renuka Chowadary had said at the time.
The scheme was modeled after the Tamil Nadu cradle baby scheme, started in 1992, which took in abandoned girl children and then sent them to registered orphanages and put them up for adoption. While the scheme has been considered successful by many, there is also severe criticism around it.
Activists say it legitimises abandonment of girl children, and does not address the root cause of infanticide, which is son preference. Others claim that the government is ill equipped to provide for the girls, who would have to bear poor standards of living, lack of security, malnutrition and could also be subject to exploitation and abuse.
In November 2016, the Madras High Court’s Madurai Bench, summoned officials, and expressed shock that the scheme remains active even after 24 years. “The issue is really heart-rending and serious. It is not known what steps are taken by the government to educate the people and to curb the menace of abandoning or selling newborns... We are also not informed about any study undertaken by the government to prevent this evil,” the court had said in its order.