Today, India is home to 11 million abandoned children, out of which 90% are girls. The deep-rooted stigma against female children in much of Indian society stems from a perception that women are financially burdensome on their families. The practice of dowry, though illegal, is still widespread among many segments of society, as is the tradition of under-educating women, leaving them less eligible to bring in steady incomes. The country’s battles with female infanticide, feticide and abandoning baby girls have all caused its sex ratio to steadily decline over the years—from 961 women per 1,000 males in 1971 to 939 in 2011 and a projected 898 in 2031.
Rajasthan has the second-highest number of abandoned babies among Indian states, with 674 infants left behind in the state between 2007 and 2011. The state’s ongoing battle with its societal stigma against baby girls is reflected in its fast-declining sex ratio, which has dipped from 909 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2001 to 883 in 2011.
In order to tackle the immediate problem of high fatality rates among abandoned babies, the state government has introduced public cradles or safe spots where parents can leave the infants. Following this scheme, the government has instructed hospitals across the country to place such cradles outside so that doctors can tend to the babies immediately. They are given medical attention and taken to government-run or affiliated shelters.
While introducing programs such as public cradles and increasing the capacity of local hospitals to treat and save lives of India’s abandoned baby girls are expected to bring positive outcomes for the immediate moment, little is done to equip them to live the rest of their lives with security. Most orphanages and child shelters in the country are ill-equipped, understaffed and lacking facilities to guarantee a basic quality of life to children.
Attempts to curb the problem from its very roots have been many and multifaceted, but mostly in vain. As per the law, parents can be punished for up to seven years in prison for abandoning or neglecting a child. However, neither does the law fix the inherent prejudice against the baby nor is it enforced enough to end the practice. The government has also sought to tackle societal bias against female babies by providing educational initiatives that teach families to value, empower and be empowered by their daughters. India has even introduced schemes to provide financial support to families with girls, hoping that this will ensure that they are educated and supported.