Abandoned children are collateral damage of Covid-19

Why has there been an increase of newborns dumped on the roadside?

ABANDONED children are the invisible collateral damage of the pandemic sweeping the world. And the most heart-rending examples are the babies born to parents who haven’t got the means to care for them.

Our NGO partner Snehalaya has reported a 20% increase in the number of newborns to have come to their child adoption centre, Shehankur, in the last few months. Just in the last week of May, they were alerted that two babies had been left on the roadside and had to be rescued. Shehankur staff traced one back to a 16-year-old mother. Founder Dr Girish Kulkarni explained: “Extreme poverty and lack of basic means forced her to abandon her baby.”

Malnourished and injured

Abandoned children are often malnourished or have been orphaned and homeless. Babies found on the streets or near garbage dumps are sometimes badly injured due to animal bites after being thrown away and left to die. Others are found to suffer from severe anomalies like mental retardation, disabilities, HIV/AIDS, skin abnormalities, abnormally formed organs, etc.  

Sadly Covid-19 seems to have exacerbated the issue of abandoned children in India – of which there are 29.6 million, according to a UNICEF report. While it is difficult to estimate the number of newborns given up by parents each year, it has been established that 90% of them are girls.

Reasons to abandon babies

Babies are abandoned for many reasons: victims of rape or unmarried mothers fearing recriminations, being unable to financially support a child or simply not wanting another girl in the family. Healthy babies may be trafficked through illegal adoptions while girls and children with special needs may be killed purposely or abandoned and left to die.

During the coronavirus lockdown period, most maternity facilities have been closed and women and girls are being forced to deliver their babies at home. They are also unable to access essential pre and postnatal services. 

In normal circumstances, women and girls with unwanted pregnancies are referred to Snehankur by maternity professionals where they receive support to safely deliver and relinquish their babies – rather than abandon them on the streets or have them illegally adopted or trafficked. 

Adoptions on hold

Another fallout of the pandemic is that adoptions are on hold. This along with more babies being abandoned by penniless parents or mothers,  child adoption centres like Snehankur are running to more than full capacity. 

Dr Kulkarni says: “Our team is dedicated and is managing but, as we are unable to employ additional staff, our already limited resources are becoming overstretched. We are also deeply concerned about the lasting impact in our communities and how we will manage the anticipated increase in demand for our support now that the lockdown is slowly lifting.”

Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Sadly in India, the record is not great. In the first phase of the nationwide lockdown, for instance, the national child helpline (1098) received  4.6lakh calls – and the majority were pleas for food, a large number possibly from abandoned children.

Snehankur’s programmes of community outreach to track unwanted pregnancies and save the unborn from the dangers of abandonment are a step in the right direction. Support their work and Give Abandoned infants a Fighting Chance. Donate now!

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