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Through the scheme, people could drop off unwanted newborns at cradle drop-off points, but this facility has been defunct at Nilourfer Hospital.
Photo for representation/Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

On Saturday, the Rein Bazar police were informed by locals from Azmath Nagar about a newborn male child with his umbilical cord still attached floating in a sewage ditch. In June, a newborn was found abandoned on the roadside half-eaten by rats; the baby did not survive the ordeal.

Such incidents could perhaps have been avoided if the ‘Ooyala’ or cradle scheme still functioned. Through the scheme, people could drop off unwanted newborns at cradle drop-off points, but this facility has been defunct since 2017 end. However, officials say it is expected to be revived soon.

The cradle scheme was first launched at Niloufer Hospital and Shishu Vihar in 2016. Once the babies were left at these drop-off points, they would become the responsibility of the Women and Child Welfare department. Since the launch of the scheme, the department received 85 abandoned newborns, of out which 80% were girls. But the scheme is defunct at Nilourfer Hospital.

“We have not abandoned the scheme,” said an official with the Women and Child Welfare department on the condition of anonymity. “We plan to expand the scheme to all maternity hospitals in the city. We are still discussing the modalities, especially with regard to security of the abandoned child,” the official added.

The security concerns raised by the department official is valid, considering how in July a newborn was kidnapped from Gandhi Hospital barely six days after it was born and rescued by Hyderabad City Police 150 km away in Bidar, Karnataka.

“CCTV cameras helped police solve that case but if we set up CCTV cameras at the cradle drop-off points, will people still drop off the babies? We are debating this,” the official said.

“Setting up CCTV cameras will discourage people from dropping off newborns at the hospitals,” observed Nithin Kumar from Save the Children, an NGO working for children’s welfare.

“The instances of babies being abandoned have drastically come down in Telangana in recent times. The linking of Aadhaar and cash incentives and KCR kits are motivating women to register their pregnancies. But some instances still occur as some families that already have two girl children will abandon the third, or they could be premature babies born out of child marriages,” he added.

Across state-run homes in the city, there are over 110 children aged between 0-10 awaiting prospective parents, while there are over 800 applications from potential parents pending with the Women and Child Welfare department.

Government schemes

Under the Aroghya Lakshmi scheme, the early registration of pregnant women and enrolment of pregnant and lactating women is done at the Anganwadi centres. Announced in the Telangana 2017-18 budget, the KCR Kit scheme for pregnant women and newborn babies provides Rs 12,000 cash incentive to mothers, given in three instalments, who deliver babies at government hospitals. An additional Rs 1,000 is given if the newborn is a girl.

Since it was introduced in June 2017, the kit has helped increase institutional deliveries by about 6%, Telangana Health Minister C Laxma Reddy had said at the Legislative Council meeting in March 2018.

The percentage of deliveries at government hospitals was 32.8% in January 2017 and the government claims this percentage has increased to 47.2 in January 2018. Until March this year, the state government has spent Rs 203.68 crore on the scheme benefitting 6,43,420 people.

“The KCR kit has been a great motivator for women to register… we are witnessing more births at Niloufer Hospital since the launch of the scheme. The cash incentive and the contents of the kit are great motivators for women to register their pregnancies. This has also helped increase the immunisation rates, it gets easier to keep track of the child’s immunisation,” said Dr Srinivas Kalyani, professor of paediatrics and head of the emergency department at Niloufer Hospital.

The official with the Women and Child Welfare department said that they will be undertaking awareness campaigns to promote the cradle scheme through Anganwadi centers and NGOs.

“The instances of babies being abandoned will not stop, but the best one can do is to ensure such unwanted babies are not killed off,” he added.

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