A cry for change: the urgent need for awareness about how to give up a child safely in India

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Pune, 23rd February 2024: In Maharashtra, two shocking incidents have recently come to light, serving as devastating reminders of the plight of unwanted, abandoned children in India. In Palghar, a newborn was found just a few months ago discarded in a trash bin, and in Pune, another abandoned newborn was discovered in Pimple Nilakh just weeks ago, as reported by Punekar News. Unfortunately, a simple news search shows that these are not isolated cases; they’re instances that happen all too often across India – and they are a desperate cry for a change in how we handle the care of unwanted children.

Meera Marth, Co-Founder of NGO Where Are India’s Children commented on the matter: “We read about these stories every day, and each one urges us to act to ensure we don’t read another one again. When a family is unable or unwilling to care for a child, in some very unfortunate cases, babies and young children are abandoned in dangerous and life-threatening situations. Many don’t make it alive and many get physical injuries and mental trauma for life.  These children are stripped of their basic rights to safety and care. There is a simple solution in place to help families who are unable to take care of their children; but awareness is very low across India.”

Safe Surrender: a ray of hope

This is where the concept of Safe Surrender comes into play. It’s a legal, dignified, and compassionate alternative to illegal and unsafe abandonment. Instead of leaving a child in peril, families or individuals can surrender the child (completely anonymously if they wish) to the district’s Child Welfare Committee or a Specialised Adoption Agency, government entities which take care of the child and try to find them a permanent home through adoption. This simple act can save a child from immense physical and emotional trauma, and can ensure that they are given the best chances for a new life, by being adopted into one of the many thousands of families who queue as long as four years to adopt.

How to surrender a child in India

What is ‘Safe Surrender?’

Safe Surrender, simply put, is the act of contacting a Child Welfare Committee or Specialised Adoption Agency and arranging to drop off the child with the organisation, freeing the child for legal adoption. Children of any age can be accepted this way. The person who needs to surrender the child can call Childline at 1098 so they can help them, assess the situation and determine next steps. They can alternatively contact the nearest Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA) directly. The agency and the district Child Welfare Committee will give the child immediate care such as food, shelter and then start to immediately facilitate the child’s legal adoption process. 

Awareness is the key to change

How child surrender works in India

Illustration by Varshini

The lack of awareness about the option of Safe Surrender is a significant barrier. Many people, from all walks of life, are simply unaware of this option. The stories of children found in trash bins and on streets are a stark reminder of this knowledge gap.  NGOs like WAIC are at the forefront, campaigning and educating among social workers and the community, but more extensive efforts are needed. Awareness campaigns must be tailored to reach from urban to the most remote areas. Local leaders, Anganwadi, and ASHA workers can play a crucial role in disseminating this information. Every member of the community can make a difference. By spreading the word about Safe Surrender, we can collectively ensure that no child has to endure the fate and indignity of being abandoned. It’s not just the responsibility of the authorities but of every citizen to protect these innocent lives.

Meera Marthi comments, “WAIC has been actively campaigning online and conducting training for Anganwadi workers in Telangana. However, more needs to be done. Pan-India training programs for Anganwadi and ASHA workers can create large-scale awareness that unsafe abandonment can be prevented through legal surrender of the child. Additionally, when a parent/guardian is leaving a child in a shelter, or if a child is left in a shelter and not visited, the child’s family should be informed that surrender is an option to give the child a better future and a better life.”

What you can do to help

It is imperative that every citizen of India understands the importance of Safe Surrender. By spreading this knowledge, or donating directly to WAIC to help spread the awareness at scale, to prevent the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma faced by children.

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