Disturbing cases of neonates labeled as “unwanted” have surged in Kashmir, as these vulnerable newborns are abandoned at garbage dumps, isolated roadsides and even within hospital washrooms. This distressing trend is a stark departure from the close-knit community ideals that once defined the region. What adds to the misfortune is that many of these abandoned infants are diagnosed with Down Syndrome or are baby girls, left near dustbins or in the heaps of garbage.
This perplexing situation underscores a dual challenge faced by our society. On one hand, there is a poignant reality of a surge in infertility cases, and on the other hand, distressing incidents of newborn abandonment add to the complexity. This calls for a compassionate examination of the underlying issues and a concerted effort to address both rising infertility rates and distressing cases of discarding in a comprehensive and empathetic manner.
The Department of Social Welfare, Jammu & Kashmir UT, is witnessing an alarming increase, with an average of 10 cases, reported each month. It’s important to note that this estimate is conservative, as not all cases of infant dumping are reported. This represents a significant rise from the previous monthly average of five cases reported just a few years ago.
The locations where these helpless infants are discovered—amidst garbage, on desolate roads and within hospital premises—paint a grim picture of the trials faced by both the infants and their families. This alarming rise of such cases places an added burden on the already overstretched Department of Social Welfare, necessitating urgent and comprehensive interventions.
The reasons contributing to these situations may vary widely from one case to another. However, it is essential to underscore the unequivocal fact that, regardless of the circumstances, no reason can fairly justify such actions. And the act of forsaking a neonate cannot be defended.
To effectively tackle this issue, it is crucial to understand the multifaceted reasons behind newborn abandonment. Societal norms, particularly those related to gender biases, often play a significant role in such incidents. The preference for male children, coupled with the pressure from in-laws, contributes to the vulnerability of female infants. The unfortunate reality is that girl children, once victims of female feticide following prenatal gender determination, are now facing discarding. This shift in the trend may be due to the impact of stringent laws discouraging gender determination before birth.
Additionally, economic hardships and the perceived inability to care for a child with special needs, such as those with Down Syndrome, drive some families to take drastic measures. The lack of awareness—both about prenatal and postnatal testing and the available support systems—exacerbates the challenges faced by these families. In certain instances, there are unmarried mothers who throw away their neonates.
Addressing this growing crisis requires a collaborative effort involving government agencies, non-profit organizations and the community at large. Social awareness campaigns can play a pivotal role in dispelling myths, eradicating stigma and promoting inclusivity. Educational programs targeted at schools, healthcare institutions and community centers can help change perceptions and foster empathy.
The Department of Social Welfare must not bear the burden alone; instead, it should receive increased support and resources to enhance its capacity to deal with these cases effectively.
Counseling services, economic aid and educational initiatives should be readily available for families facing the challenges of raising a child with special needs.
A confidential adoption system could be a compassionate solution, ensuring that couples unable to raise their newborns can confidentially hand them over to couples seeking to adopt. This arrangement would safeguard the identities of both parties, respecting their privacy while prioritizing the welfare of the child. Besides, the organized adoption system holds the potential to offer hope to permanently infertile couples, breathe new life into unwanted newborns, and may help in saving marriages from the strains arising from childlessness.