Each year, 11 million infants are abandoned in India, left near railroad tracks, city dumps, and bus stands, the possibility of death all but certain.
And 90% of those abandoned children are baby girls.
But a new program in the state of Rajasthan, which has the second highest rate of abandonment in the country with about 100 infants abandoned each year, has helped save the lives of 20 children in its first 10 months of operation. Officials hope it is just the beginning of the end of “female infanticide.”
Health officials in Rajasthan placed 67 specially designed cradles in hospitals, medical colleges, adoption centers, and satellite hospital locations around the state to allow parents to drop unwanted infants in them and know they would receive care, according to Al Jazeera. The program is known as the Ashray Palna Yojana project.
The cradles are designed with two doors: one that opens to the road, where parents can come and drop the baby, and another to the inside of the adoption center or medical center, so workers can receive the baby.
The cradles are equipped with an alarm system that alerts hospital staff to the presence of a baby three minutes after he or she is first detected, so that parents can leave before workers find the child.
The baby is then taken in for medical care and placed in an adoption agency, according to the report.
"The main aim of the scheme is to save the newborn babies who are dumped in dustbins and bushes right after birth, most of whom happen to be girls," Devendra Agrawal, the health department adviser who helped oversee the program, told Al Jazeera.
Girls are more often abandoned than boys in poor families because they are seen as more costly and less desirable, according to the report. Though it is now illegal under Indian law, many families still practice the tradition of paying a dowry when their daughter is married.
According to Al Jazeera, 20 infants have been received in the cradles since the program was launched in February. By the end of July, 12 infant girls’ lives had been saved, according to the Hindustan Times.
The cradles allow parents to avoid punishment for abandoning their children, which is illegal under Indian law and punishable by three years in prison.
"We tell society if you don't want a girl, don't kill her — we will take care of her," Agrawal said. "We are not interested in knowing the identity of the parents; this is a unique feature of this scheme. If we try to track who they are, they wouldn't leave their babies."
Agrawal acknowledged that the program is only a “temporary solution” designed to save lives in the short term, and that the state has begun other programs seeking to change prejudices against girls in the culture. But in the meantime, the program was working.
"We cannot let those girls die till attitudes change," he said.