It was a touching moment, one that left everyone teary-eyed. The woman sobbed uncontrollably as she hugged her seven-day-old baby. It was a scene straight out of a Hindi movie where police rise to the occasion and trace the stolen child in a record time and present it to the harried mother. Only it was not a reel-life but real-life story that happened at a government hospital in Hyderabad. The newborn was handed over to the biological mother as cameras captured the happy reunion.
All is well that ends well. But why do infants go missing from maternity hospitals? Not a week passes without the news of a newborn being stolen from a hospital appearing in the media. The modus operandi is almost always the same. The new mother is befriended by an unfamiliar woman who wins her confidence by acts of kindness. And on the pretext of taking the child for bathing or vaccination vanishes into thin air.
Women are generally kind, caring and gentle. Why then do they turn child snatchers? In most cases women who resort to abduction are neither heartless nor have a criminal intent. Maternal envy and a burning desire for motherhood is also not the reason.
They do it just to save a troubled marriage or to win over the love and trust of the in-laws. Of course there are instances of children being kidnapped for ransom, human trafficking and organ harvesting. But such cases are rare. The typical abductor is a woman who might have miscarried or failed to conceive and to escape the insults and taunts resorts to the extreme step. There are some con women who visit hospitals for window shopping. They look out for the weakest security and mothers who have none to look after before picking up the sweet little ones. Analysts say it is generally not infertility that drives a woman to steal a toddler. It is the desperation to hang on to a deteriorating marriage and ward of ridicule from family members that turns them thieves. So who is to blame?
The world recently saw the agony and despair of mothers when the Trump administration separated immigrant parents from their children at the border to check illegal crossing. The order is now reversed but the déja vu feeling of what could have happened persists.
Labelling and tagging the newborns is a good security measure. But not quite enough. Hospitals ought to control access to nursery wards and come up with abduction alarm systems. Better safe than sorry.