State adopts infants' cause
In the second of a two-part report on infanticide in India, CNN's Satinder Bindra takes a look at efforts to find new homes for little girls surrendered by their parents to the state.
SALEM, India (CNN) -- Eighteen-month-old Hema's biological parents abandoned her within hours of birth.
Now she has been adopted by the Somasundram family.
"Imagine a blind man suddenly getting the gift of sight. There's as much joy when a childless couple can adopt a child,'' says the child's new father.
The Somasundram's live in southern India's Salem district -- an area where prejudice against girls runs so deep officials say every year about 100 girls are murdered by their own parents.
It's a practice that shames and embarrasses the Somasundrams.
"Instead of killing children, if these people only dropped off the girls at state adoption centers thousands of people like us can get tremendous happiness,'' says the father of the Somasundrams household.
Officials are now encouraging mothers who do not want to keep baby girls to surrender them to the state. Government agencies then arrange for their adoption.
Officials are also taking other steps to curb female infanticide.
It is now mandatory for all pregnant women in the Salem area to register at the local hospital. Here many receive their first lessons in gender equity and are counseled not to kill or abandon female children.''
Such counseling appears to be working. One expectant mother, Jayalakshmi, says she is looking forward to giving birth to a baby girl.
"Those who kill baby girls discard them like trash," she says. "Do they have such low regard for women? Can't that girl become a civil servant a doctor lawyer? Why do they kill them?''
Local women volunteers called "motorcycle messiahs" travel door-to-door spreading just such a message.
In the areas they work in, fewer girls are now being killed.
The messiahs, though, admit they have not been able to stem the number of babies being handed over to the state and social agencies.
But the social workers are not worried. They have a long list of childless couples that want to give these female children their right to life.