– 28 December 2018
A new family for abandoned girls in India
When a shopkeeper spotted two young girls wandering alone through the Faridabad train station in India, he initially assumed their parents must be close by. He kept an eye on them, waiting for someone to come – but no one ever did.
The sisters, just three or four years old, had been abandoned with only a small burlap rice sack containing a few matching dresses.
This is an all too familiar occurrence in India, which is home to 11 million abandoned children. Poverty and a cultural tendency towards favouring boys – worsened by the illegal practice of dowry payments which encourage the perception of girls as financial burdens - has left girls disproportionately at risk of abandonment, infanticide and abortion. Up to 90% of the country’s abandoned children are girls, and the Indian government has criminalised prenatal sex-determination tests to prevent sex-selective abortions.
Child abandonment has become so common in some areas that in Rajasthan state cradles are now placed outside hospitals for families to abandon their children anonymously. The Ashray Palna Yojana project is intended to prevent babies from being abandoned in bins, hedges or bodies of water where they can be exposed to fatal risks.
Most of the abandoned girls in India never find a home. Thankfully, the sisters were amongst the lucky ones. The shopkeeper alerted the police, who bought them to the SOS village community near Delhi where they have joined an SOS family.
“They are lucky to have reached us safely,” Tsewang Paldon, Director of SOS Children’s Villages Faridabad said. “Alone at the railway station anything could have happened to them.”
Our village community in Faridabad takes in at least four abandoned children a month. The children are offered emergency care while child welfare authorities attempt to locate their guardians. If they cannot – or if returning home would be unsafe for them – they are offered a permanent home with an SOS family.
The girls’ SOS mother Jharna says they have settled in well with their new brothers and sisters. Although she has tried to find out more about them, the children are too young to provide much information about their early lives. They speak a dialect of Hindi which makes it likely they come from the state of Bihar, more than 1,000 kilometres away, but there are no other clues about their identity and no family has ever come in search of them.
“At bed time, the older child talks about her family and what happened to them, but it’s hard to make sense of it,” Jharna tells us.
“But they are happy here – and that is what matters now.”