Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A ‘cradle’ outside every government district headquarters is intended to encourage parents not to abort their baby girls but to deliver them to government custody. India has launched a “cradle scheme” in a bid to redress a “critical” numerical imbalance between the male and female population, which is rooted mainly in foeticide. The plan will be implemented by the ministry for women and child development in collaboration with local governments. The Indian Church, consistently committed to countering all forms of abortion and gender discrimination, has welcomed the initiative, reiterating the “inestimable value of each and every life, for which Catholics in the country have been fighting for decades.”
Renuka Chowdhury, minister for women and child development, said: “We want to put a cradle or palna in every district headquarters to tell parents to have their children and leave them to us.” Her appeal targets Indian families: "Don't kill your children because there really is a crisis situation. It doesn't matter if the scheme encourages more abandoned children. It is better than killing them." The minister said parents could have a change of heart later and take their children back.
By applying the “cradle scheme”, the government hopes to redress the “alarming” female/male ratio which according to the latest census is 933/1000. Recent estimates of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in India reveal that out of 71,000 babies born every day in India, only 31,000 are female, with a ratio of 882 females for every 1000 males. According to the global average of 954/1000, at least 38,000 girls should be born every day. It is believed that this shortfall of 7,000 girls a day is due to the widespread use of female foeticide by parents. Although this practice is punishable by law, foeticide is very common India because men enjoy cultural supremacy and because of the financial obligations (dowry) of having a daughter. The phenomenon is widespread in the richest regions of the country too, especially states in the north. The capital New Delhi has the lowest ratio of 821/1000. In Haryana the ratio is 861/1000, while in Punjab it is only slightly higher: 876/1000.
Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said the government plan was a continuation of the “good work being done by the Church”. Interviewed by AsiaNews, the archbishop expressed appreciation for the initiative of cradles to protect little girls “because in our social context, strong gender discrimination persists.” He continued: “The Indian Church has been working on this front for decades: the sisters of Mother Teresa and other religious congregations accept unwanted babies, keeping a cradle outside the door of their institutions”.
He said: “While we appreciate this initiative of the government, we reiterate our policy against the grave evil of abortion. We make accessible orphanages, day care centres and hostels where infants can be taken care or and brought up with tender loving care.” The Church “values and treasures each and every life, male and female, from conception to its natural end”. This is why Catholic personnel impart ethical and moral teachings against the “evil practice of infanticide” in health structures “where unscrupulous doctors are often at work”.