'The real reason is early marriage, which is prevalent in many parts of Tamil Nadu.'
'These girls are married off at 15 and by the age of 19 they have three children.'
'By the age of 21 they are separated and the children are abandoned.'
A recent report by the ministry of women and child development painted an unflattering image of Tamil Nadu when it revealed that the largest number of abandoned children were from the state.
The report, compiled by the Childline India Foundation and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, revealed that Tamil had 1,550 abandoned children in the age group of 7 to 18, followed by West Bengal (933 children) and Karnataka (729).
Sexual exploitation is also routine and in government-run shelter homes they try to ensure news of it does not leak out.
Dr R Vidyasagar, below, who has worked as a child protection specialist with Unicef for 20 years, tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar, "Another reason is the restrictions placed on a girl child. Parents are very protective and don’t give the girl any freedom. This makes young girls rebel."
Do you think the cradle baby scheme (where you can leave your new born baby and nobody questions you) is the reason for Tamil Nadu having the highest number of abandoned children in the country?
The cradle baby scheme was popular when it started. Now it has very few babies coming in.
The real reason is early marriage, which is prevalent in many parts of Tamil Nadu.
These girls are married off at 15 and by the age of 19 they have three children.
By the age of 21 they are separated and the children are abandoned. Only grandparents look after these children if they are there.
Many girls do not finish their 12th standard. There is no vocational training in school.
Elopement has increased. Salem district has a home for these girls because it is rampant there.
There is no sex education in schools and so they are not aware of preventive measures.
How come there are so many single mothers even though their partner can be jailed for rape?
I have already told you that early marriage and elopement are the reasons for this. Another reason is the restrictions placed on a girl child.
Parents are very protective and don't give the girl any freedom. This makes young girls rebel.
I have many a time explained to the government that keeping the children with the parents is the least expensive way of looking after them. The cost in shelter homes is much higher.
When parents send their children to shelter homes the government should pay the parents to keep their children with a probation officer keeping a regular eye on the family.
But isn't sex education part of the curriculum?
No, but it should be and also compulsory.
What are the conditions like for these children in the shelter homes?
The conditions are not desirable in the government shelter homes and also those funded by the government and run by NGOs.
Corporal punishment is rampant and so is malnutrition.
Sexual exploitation is regular and in the government homes they make sure it does not leak out.
Is there any data as to how many of these unwed mothers are from shelter homes?
No. But there are shelter homes for these pregnant girls.
Is poverty the main cause why children are abandoned?
Poverty is one of the reasons and the other is social stigma.
A single mother is looked down upon. Her character is suspect.
Another reason is there is nobody to care for and protect these girls.
We had gone on a survey in Salem and we found that girls were most vulnerable on the way to school. The roads leading to the school were totally isolated. So what the parents do is stop sending them to school.
The government builds schools, but never bothers to find out if the school is accessible through safe roads.
As a child protection specialist what steps would you advise to prevent children for being abandoned?
The steps have been clearly put up by Unicef and we need to follow them, we have to teach the child decision making and also problem solving skills. We have to teach them how to gather Information.
We have to teach them how to evaluate future consequences of present actions. We have to tell them that there are more ways than one to tackle a particular issue.
We have to teach them about attitude and values and also how these factors motivate us. We have to show them how to read others by their actions.
They have to analyse attitudes, values, social norms and beliefs.
They have to learn self-control, self-esteem and self-confidence and also how to build these three.
They have to be taught self-awareness skills including awareness of rights, influences, values, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses.
They have to be taught to set goals and also how to achieve it.
At every step in their quest they must know how to self-evaluate/self-assess and also monitor their every step.
It is very important to teach them anger management and how to deal with grief and anxiety.