Madhavi* was overwhelmed with happiness as she set off to head home to Matara, from the hospital. Clutching her newborn baby, she got into the vehicle with Suneetha* one of her close relations, Lakshmi* - Suneetha’s friend and Lakshmi’s husband. She was happy that everything turned out so well. “Thank god my fears were nothing but silly suspicions,” Madhavi thought to herself as she began to anticipate of the life ahead of her.
Madhavi instantly woke up from her dreams as she felt the vehicle suddenly stop. Lakshmi and her husband who were sitting in front got out and dashed open the back door. “Give the baby to Lakshmi,” Suneetha whispered, nudging Madhavi. “I can’t! What is happening? Let me go!!” Madhavi yelled. Just then, Suneetha clasped her mouth with her hand while Lakshmi climbed in, grabbed the baby off Madhavi’s hands. Instantly she and her husband climbed into a vehicle and drove away with the baby while Madhavi yelled helplessly as the vehicle she was in drove off in the opposite direction.
It has been exactly one year and two months since that incident and today Madhavi has embarked on a lone battle to get her child back. Madhavi was living in Awissawella with managing a tailor shop. It was in November 2008 that Madhavi discovered she was pregnant. Although it was the kind of news that would definitely bring a smile upon any woman’s face, Madhavi was rather taken aback. She was unmarried and making the matter worse, the man she was involved with was married. She was an independent woman with sufficient financial capability to bring up the baby. But it was the thought of having to face a society full of judgmental eyes that was disheartening. “My mother is a heart patient and my father suffers from high blood pressure. So I decided to hide the truth for as far I could,” Madhavi said as she began to relate to us the events that led her to her life’s prime struggle.
From the frying pan into the fire
Determined to conceal the truth, Madhavi continued with the daily operations of the tailor shop. Duminda had also continued to contact her occasionally although he made no move to take responsibility of the situation and support her. In spite of her attempts, it came to a point where Madhavi was no longer able to hide the truth. “It didn’t take my family long to guess my condition because of morning sickness…” Having no other option, Madhavi revealed the situation to her brother and sister-in-law and begged them not to tell her parents. “I was about three months pregnant then. My brother suggested that I take immediate measures to close the tailor shop.” Taking her brother’s advice she had returned to her parents and several days later, she had told them she was migrating for employment for several months.
Madhavi then returned to Avissawella and stayed in one of his friend’s houses before *Suneetha Bandara, an employee at an NGO accepted to keep Madhavi under the care of her sister in Colombo.
“She scoffed at my attempt to bring up a child without a father and said that it’s best if I considered putting my baby for adoption,” Madhavi said. This had been the initial incident which planted seeds of suspicion in Madhavi’s mind. However, having no option at the moment Madhavi had agreed to come to Colombo. The very next day Madhavi, Suneetha and Madhavi’s brother travelled to Colombo and arrived at Suneetha’s sister’s in Maligawatte. “They left me with Suneetha’s sister and set out to look for a boarding house for me. About three hours later they returned and took me to the boarding house,” she added.
Before arriving at the boarding house located in the Police Lane in Slave Island Madhavi was instructed not to reveal her true whereabouts to anyone. On the way, they had stopped the vehicle in front of a leading hospital in Colombo. “Two ladies got into the vehicle from the hospital. One was introduced to me as Lakshmi* and the other one was introduced as a cleaning staff worker of the hospital,” she said.
Imprisoned and ill-treated
Madhavi was made to go through continuous harassments during her stay in the boarding house for three months. She was not provided proper meals and was made to sleep on the floor. Turning the situation from bad to worse, Madhavi had virtually turned into a prisoner. Madhavi had attended monthly checkups to one of the leading hospitals in Colombo. “The doctor used to constantly tell me to walk as I badly needed exercise. But they didn’t allow me to step out of the house at all.” Her phone was taken and she was not given access to any calls and she was not permitted to step outside. “Gradually they started calling my brothers and telling tales about me. Finally they succeeded in creating a rift between my brothers and me. Eventually, by the time I had my baby I was isolated with no family to turn to at all,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks.
When Madhavi visited the doctor for the final checkup prior her due date, the doctor had been quite peculiar. “She told me that when I get myself admitted to the hospital for the delivery, I don’t need to bring the baby clothes and only my clothes would be enough.” Madhavi had got admitted to the hospital on July 28. “I was in room number 154 and I gave birth on July 29,” she said.
Madhavi heaved a sigh as she spoke of the events which followed the baby’s birth. It seems that the entire hospital staff that attended to Madhavi, including the gynecologist had aided to the injustice that was being cooked right under their noses. “When I was taken into the Labour room the doctor winked and said that I am one of her special patients. I did not understand what she meant then until the next day,” Madhavi said as she burst into tears once more. “I wasn’t even told whether it was a boy or a girl. When I asked to see the baby, I was told to wait until I was taken to the room.”
Robbed of her baby…
A fatigued Madhavi was taken to the room and few minutes later the baby was brought in and placed in the cot next to her bed. “My legs were completely numb and I couldn’t get up. So even though I wanted to carry my baby I couldn’t. I rang for an attendant and asked her to hand me the baby so I could breastfeed. It was only then that I saw that I had got a baby boy.” Madhavi’s happiness had not been for long when another attendant who rushed into the room had grabbed the baby off her hands and walked out. “About an hour later she brought the baby back and said that the baby was fed milk powder. I was not allowed to breastfeed.”
It was the next day that Madhavi was robbed of her baby. “I shouted and cried inside the van but nobody heard me. Suneetha turned a deaf ear to my pleas and dropped me at my brother’s residence in Matara,” Madhavi said, relating the incidents that followed. She had called Suneetha and asked her about the baby’s whereabouts. Suneetha had answered the phone only once and has said that she has no idea at all. “She said she that I was only an actress in the play and that the drama would flow on only the way they wished because they were the directors of the play.
One day, while watching TV Madhavi had seen an official from the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) commenting on adoptions and lost children. “I found the official’s number and contacted him. He advised me to write to the NCPA. Finally after several letters and phone calls, some policemen visited my home and informed me to come to the NCPA on April 21 to give evidence.”
Madhavi says that August 8 is one of the happiest days of her life and showed me her journal where she had scribbled the events which took place that day. The NCPA officials had rung her and informed that the whereabouts of her baby was found. “I was asked to come to the NCPA on August 10. There were so many officials and other people around, but my baby jumped into my arms as soon as he saw me,” Madhavi said as tears filled her eyes once more – but this time they were tears of happiness.
Finally, after months of continuous worrying, tears and countless Madhavi has been granted rights to her baby through the courts. “I was advised to go to the District Courts where I am supposed to receive some papers in order to get my rights to the baby. I am waiting to obtain some documents from the Colombo Magistrate courts to proceed further.”
NCPA Chairman Anoma Dissanayake says that the main reason for such unlawful adoptions and such incidents to take place in the weaknesses which life in the local adoption process. “The legal adoption procedure at the moment takes a long time to be processed due to various bureaucratic procedures and other requirements. Therefore most couples who wish to adopt have now opted to unlawful means instead turning to legal means,” she said.
She pointed out that the adoption process in Sri Lanka should be eased and turned more effective. “It is important to look into the safeguard of the child when he/she is given for adoption. But it is also important to minimize delays in the process and turn the method much more effective,” she said. Speaking further Mrs. Dissanayake said that there is also a tendency for women to give up the babies in adoption for money and thereafter ask for their rights misusing the legal process in order to sell the child once more and get a larger sum of money.