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West Bengal’s first ‘Palna’ scheme for abandoned infants - GetBengal story

30 October, 2023 10:45:31
West Bengal’s first ‘Palna’ scheme for abandoned infants - GetBengal story

'Palna' scheme by the West Bengal government

To be born unwanted and abandoned to a risky future is the worst fate for a new life. Yet we often come across news of rescuers encountering a day-old infant covered in ants found next to a vat. The frail baby looks physically challenged and probably the reason why her parents have abandoned her. Or, people spotting a pack of stray dogs feasting on a newborn baby just outside a government hospital. They inform the police who rush to rescue the infant but by that time, the baby succumbs to injuries. Then there was news about a stray dog rescuing an abandoned baby left to die in a trash bag outside a maternity home. The dog kept a close vigil on the trash bag and when a passerby heard the baby’s wail, he informed the authorities who came and rescued the infant. Each year, 11 million infants are forsaken in India, left near railroad tracks, city dumps, and bus stands, the possibility of death all but certain.

In the last one month, the West Midnapore district administration has rescued several newborn babies from dustbins, bushes and jungles. Observing the steady rise in the number of newborn babies being deserted, the district administration in collaboration with the Child Welfare Department (under the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, West Bengal) recently launched a project called Palna. These are baby baskets where parents can leave unwanted babies without the fear of prosecution, with complete anonymity, and ensure the survival and safety of the infant. Child abandonment is punishable under section 317 of India’s Penal Code. However, state-sponsored campaigns sensitize unwilling parents to choose a welfare crib instead of a vat or bush and opt for dropping them in the palna (baby basket or crib). This ensures an infant’s right to life and the assurance of concealed identity and immunity from legal action for the parents. A key reason for the ditching of newborns is a lack of awareness across India about the law on the surrender of unwanted children.

Many women in India do not want to abandon their babies openly due to the stigma attached to being an unmarried mother. Several factors prevent women from keeping babies, such as conception from rape or incest where, instead of the crime, the mother and child are stigmas. Psychiatrists say that undiagnosed postpartum depression is another common cause. In present times, the tyranny of poverty and joblessness leads parents to give up infants, especially girl children. 

The West Midnapore district administration is the first district in the state to introduce the Palna project with four specially equipped temporary rooms in four government hospitals across the district. These hospitals include the Midanapore Medical College and Hospital, Ghatal Sub Divisional Hospital, Kharagpur Divisional Hospital and Chandrakona Rural Hospital. 

An electronic cot sits outside these hospitals and alerts staff when it has a new arrival. An alarm bell, attached to each cradle rings to notify hospital authorities as soon as a newborn is dropped in the cradle. The baby is rescued and taken in for medical care and later handed over to the Child Welfare Department. It has brought a ray of hope for vulnerable women. It is a simple, humane and anonymous method for parents who are unable to look after their children and are compelled to abandon them. By leaving their child behind in a cradle, parents will knowingly put their child up for adoption. The message is loud and clear for women who find no other alternative but to kill their progeny. There are many people who would love to adopt and hence the administration encourages women to use the cradle scheme to ensure the survival of their ‘unwanted’ babies.

The project was inaugurated recently (September 28) by the District Magistrate, Khurshid Ali Qadri, who expressed his concern after incidents of five newborn babies rescued from dustbins and forests in the district in the last one month hit headlines. The heart-wrenching incidents brought to the fore the need to save the newborn babies who are dumped in dustbins and bushes right after birth, most of whom happen to be girls. The district administration’s decision also comes as a blessing for childless people and couples. The Palna scheme will prove to be a safe place for orphaned, abandoned and surrendered babies.

Another important resolution was taken by the district administration to find out the problems faced by inmates of Vidyasagar Balika Bhavan, a government-run Specialized Adoption Agency (SAA) home under the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal. Suggestion boxes were installed within the campus and girls were encouraged to write and express the obstacles and hardships they faced in the home and also suggest viable solutions. They were asked to drop their suggestions in the boxes. So far, 16 inmates have come out in the open and shared their thoughts in writing with the district administration. One girl has expressed her wish to visit Bangladesh and meet her relatives. She is a Rohingiya refugee from Rakhine State, Myanmar, who was rescued from Kharagpur railway station with her parents and has been living in the home for the past 13 years. Her parents were detained and they have been living behind bars in Dumdum Jail. The District Magistrate has initiated talks with the government and as soon as his department receives an official signal from the government, arrangements will be made to fulfill the girl’s wish. 

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