Reporter stunned to learn that poverty makes people desperate


The BBC’s Rahul Tandon reports on a woman in India who gave her daughters away because she was too poor to give them a decent life.

Media reports in India suggested that she sold the girls for 185 rupees ($3; £2).

When I ask her if that is true, her voice rises: “I could never sell my children. I could never do such a thing. I gave them to good families where they would be well looked after.”

Purnima is now in a shelter in Bijoygunge, about 60km (37 miles) from Calcutta, and her daughters Piya (10), Supriya (eight) and Roma (four) have been reunited with her.

Even taking into account the helplessness of her situation, I find it hard to believe that this woman could just give up her children.

What? Seriously? He finds it hard to believe?

It’s common. It’s been common throughout history. Where’s he been?

Purnima is still not sure. She tells me she still feels that her daughters deserve a better life than the one she can offer.

On the drive to meet Purnima, I was convinced that no parent could ever willingly give up their child, that there must have been a financial motive behind it.

As I make my way home, I think about our conversation. The truth is, if I was in the same situation as Purnima, maybe I would have taken the same decision.

Ya think?

Sheesh. Does the phrase “foundling home” ring any bells? Never heard of the baskets left at the doors of churches? Never heard that there’s quite a lot of poverty in India?

Comments

  1. Bungoton says

    When I was born the childless couple across the street from us offered to adopt me. My family already had 6 children who couldn’t be fed and clothed and the couple felt one more baby would be a disaster for us.

    I often wish my mother had accepted their offer. My life would likely have been much happier and certainly much easier. That was not the last offer of adoption. A foster family I lived with also offered to adopt me when I was 10 years old.

    Adoption is a gamble for both parents and child but better to take a risk than live in guaranteed poverty and deprivation.

  2. says

    Has this reporter never heard of the Foundling Hospital in London where you can see, in their museum, the pathetic gifts that grieving mother left for their babies as they gave them up to the Hospital in the hope that the Hospital could give them a better chance of life than they themselves could?

    Here, in the developed world, and now, the last seventy years, is exceptional in history in that abandonment of children this way is unusual and a single mother has a better chance of bringing up a child than an institution.

    And don’t forget that in the 1950’s and 60’s it was common practise for authorities, particularly church authorities, to force unmarried mothers to give up their babies for adoption, even to the extent of telling her the child had been born dead.

  3. Kate from Iowa says

    If you look at some of the safe haven laws, there are indications that it’s still a problem here in the US. No questions asked, no papers needed, just drop the baby or child off and drive away. There have been instances of kids being driven across multiple state lines, so thier parents can get them to a safe haven state, and they’re not all kids “with problems.”

  4. StevoR says

    The reporter never read any Charles Dickens about the kids inthe poorhouse in London not so many centuries ago (“Please Sir can have some more!”) or the play by one few centuries ago writer – forgotten exactly who, alas – think it could’ve been titled The Mayor of Castlebridge or something like that – about a man who sells his wife in desparate poverty and later rises to huge prominence before falling and dying a pauper in a grave he instructs to be unmarked.

    Has this reporter been told that in India and many other poor nations there are even worse “options” that happen like infanticide – and preferentially female infanticide because of cultural traditional misogyny?

  5. natashayar-routh says

    Uh monastery’s & nunery’s where the place of choice to try to give children you couldn’t care for a shot at a better life for a millennia or so. This is hardly new and far from rare. Only the very privileged could fail to be aware of this.

  6. says

    Mummy-mysticism
    Apparently, having a child makes all the problems go away and everything will be fine as long as you’re just a loving mother.

    It’s also a catch 22: keep them and you’re an irresponsible slut who pops out sprogs she can’t take care of, give them up for adoption or worse, seek help when they’re older and you’re a failure as a mum.

  7. ibbica says

    It’s also a catch 22: keep them and you’re an irresponsible slut who pops out sprogs she can’t take care of, give them up for adoption or worse, seek help when they’re older and you’re a failure as a mum.

    …and of course what happens if you should decide you don’t want to get pregnant, or that you don’t want to give birth :/
    Sheesh. Where do they find these “reporters”? I seem to recall them not being *quite* so ignorant of their subject matter, but maybe that’s a false impression based on my own knowledge growing over time.

  8. maureen.brian says

    Just last evening on UK telly, Annie Lennox explores her family history and discovers that a great-grandmother had her father die when she was 3 – destitution takes her mother 2 years later, she’s farmed out by the parish to a woman who returns her at age 10 when she has no further use for her – yes, in so many words and in the official record – at 13 she’s working full-time in a flax mill, at 35 she’s dead. Hardly surprising, really.

    Are we getting the privileged taking over journalism now? John Humphrys, also BBC, annoys me intensely but at least he had the decency to be born in the back streets of Splott.

  9. ismenia says

    Maureen: journalism has become more middle-class in recent years so yes, that is what’s happening. It’s hard to get jobs in the media without doing a lot of unpaid work so you need parents who can afford to support adult offspring.

    Keith: I was thinking of the foundling museum as well. They could only take a fraction of the babies offered to them.

  10. Dave says

    According to the interweb, Rahul Tandon went to Bradford Grammar School, which might or might not explain anything.

  11. Ray Moscow says

    I worked in India twice — once for 6 months, the other time for 2 months — in the late 1980’s. That place will forever change the way you think about poverty.

    You’ll probably never take as much for granted (food, shelter, clean water, flush toilets, etc.) as you did before, either.

    Of course it’s changed a lot since then and has grown economically, but I expect it still has just as many extremely poor people.

  12. Timon for Tea says

    “According to the interweb, Rahul Tandon went to Bradford Grammar School, which might or might not explain anything.”

    When did he go? Because it seems most likely to me that he is just very young, so perhaps some slack needs cutting. After all, he finds it hard to believe but follows the evidence to the right conclusion nonetheless.

  13. Timon for Tea says

    “It’s also a catch 22: keep them and you’re an irresponsible slut who pops out sprogs she can’t take care of, give them up for adoption or worse, seek help when they’re older and you’re a failure as a mum.”

    For many (not all) women these days there is a get-out clause though: don’t have them until you can afford them.

  14. Beatrice says

    There was probably a time in my life when I was this incredulous about a topic such as this one.
    I think I was about 12. 14 max.

  15. says

    For many (not all) women these days there is a get-out clause though: don’t have them until you can afford them.

    Really, this can’t just be true.
    It’s been a tough week. Jen quit blogging, the misogynists are celebrating and out of the woodwork comes Timon for derailing being unbelievably naive.
    No, most women don’t have either access to contraception or abortion. Most women are so dead poor their priorities are food and shelter.
    Even those women who are in situations where they have and can afford contraception those might fail.
    If contraception fails some of those women have access to abortions which gets them on the targetline of more misogynists. The slut should have kept her legs closed.
    Even those who do have access to abortion might find themselves in a situation where they still can’t have one because they missed deadlines.
    Oh, and aboutbeing responsible and using contraception: google the name Sandra Fluke if you want to know what happens if you actually do.
    So, no, most women do indeed not have a get-out clause. Some women have more options than other women. Those with the options we see as the right ones are a tiny fraction.
    Oh, and if you still think that women can just not spawn at all: Ask child-free women about that and they’ll tell you.
    Jeez, really.

  16. Timon for Tea says

    “No, most women don’t have either access to contraception or abortion. ”

    I should have been clearer, most women in the west is what I meant. Certainly in the UK contraception is free. But anyway, if a woman can’t afford contraception and cannot afford a baby, she still has a choice (usually). Not a nice choice or an easy one, but it remains an issue or personal responsibility in most cases. The same is true of the men involved as well, of course.

  17. ismenia says

    Regarding the reporter’s background, grammar schools are state schools but a lot of the people who get in went to private primaries where they are heavily coached for the exam. Doesn’t tell us much. When you get down to it the vast majority of people in the UK are very privileged compared to the woman he interviewed.

  18. dirigible says

    “But anyway, if a woman can’t afford contraception and cannot afford a baby, she still has a choice (usually). Not a nice choice or an easy one, but it remains an issue or personal responsibility in most cases. ”

    Which underlines that they are damned if they do (it’s not “nice”) and damned if they don’t (it’s not “responsible”).

    Rather than in any way refuting it.

  19. Timon for Tea says

    Ismenia, Bradford Grammar is not a state school, it is fee-paying and simply kept the name when it went private. I agree that it doesn’t mean anything one way or the other though.

    Dirigible, I don’t think that is right: women (and men) who have children that they cannot afford when they have a choice are irresponsible and deserve to be criticised, but those who don’t aren’t and don’t. So only damned if they do. Of course some choices are harder than others but that does not mean that personal responsibility should not come into it, nor that some decisions are not culpable.

  20. Timon for Tea says

    “I too was thinking of the Foundling Hospital in London.”

    I am in an office a few minutes walk away from Coram Fields and often wander up there. Presumably ‘Tattycoram’ in Little Dorrit was named after it. Hardly surprising that it made her a bit ornery and always surprises me that Dickens thinks she should be cheerful about it. He is a good example of a writer who understood more than he wanted to.

  21. Beatrice says

    women (and men) who have children that they cannot afford when they have a choice are irresponsible and deserve to be criticised

    Because it’s just silly irresponsible women who get knocked up when they can’t feed the sprog. It’s that simple. There aren’t any pressures from the spouse or partner or family. There’s no religious indoctrination and generally pressure from the society where women are told that having a kid is their one and only purpose and that “everything will work out” once you pop it out.
    Etc.

  22. Timon for Tea says

    Beatrice, women come under all sorts of pressure to have unprotected sex but it is still irresponsible to agree when there is a real choice. You can sympathise with women in difficult circumstances without depriving them of any moral or ethical agency.

    And religions are culpable in all sorts of ways in their attitudes towards women, but I don’t think too many of them are pressurising women to have unprotected sex outside of wedlock.

  23. Me says

    I’d just like to point out that just because you happen to be in a position NOW to support a child, things change… drastically, sometimes. You can lose everything in a divorce, in a disaster, in an economic downturn, in an accident. Your future may have looked much brighter last year when you got pregnant than it does today.

    The argument that you should “wait until you can afford them” really pisses me off. I get the underlying intent- that you should do your best to be responsible and plan for it- but it’s also unrealistic in the real world to assume that there is some mystical threshold of “stable enough” or “rich enough” or “old enough” or whatever. It’s an undefined target that can disappear from under your feet faster than you can imagine, until it happens to you.

  24. Beatrice says

    Beatrice, women come under all sorts of pressure to have unprotected sex but it is still irresponsible to agree when there is a real choice.

    Yeah, real choice. What is that again?

    And religions are culpable in all sorts of ways in their attitudes towards women, but I don’t think too many of them are pressurising women to have unprotected sex outside of wedlock.

    You think these kind of situations only happen outside of marriage? Aren’t we naive.

  25. Beatrice says

    I’d just like to point out that just because you happen to be in a position NOW to support a child, things change… drastically, sometimes. You can lose everything in a divorce, in a disaster, in an economic downturn, in an accident. Your future may have looked much brighter last year when you got pregnant than it does today.

    This too.

  26. Timon for Tea says

    Me, yes I agree with that, but if you are abandoning a child within days of it being born because of difficult economic circumstances, it is likely that you knew beforehand that you were not going to be able to rear the child. And as far as I know that is when most children are abandoned (just talking about the affluent west here). Waiting until you can afford it could be rephrased as something like ‘waiting until you have a reasonable expectation of being able to afford it’.

  27. Beatrice says

    And going back to the original article, the woman was married when she had kids. She left the husband because he beat them.

  28. Timon for Tea says

    “Yeah, real choice. What is that again?”

    Non-coerced choice. Women have choices too.

    “You think these kind of situations only happen outside of marriage? Aren’t we naive.”

    I know that the vast majority of these situations happen outside of marriages or similar stable monogamous relationships.

  29. Timon for Tea says

    “And going back to the original article, the woman was married when she had kids. She left the husband because he beat them.”

    Yes, and she likely had less choice in marriage and in sexual relations. I was only talking about women (and men) in the affluent west. When you are in extreme social conditions things are very different.

  30. Beatrice says

    Timon for Tea,

    Be careful about going down the “poor people shouldn’t breed” road. Rather, you are already there, but I hope you’ll suddenly take a quick turn.

  31. Twist says

    And it’s not like someone’s financial situation can take a turn for the worse when they’ve already got children. Economic crisis? What’s one of those?

  32. Timon for Tea says

    “Be careful about going down the “poor people shouldn’t breed” road.”

    Not my words, Beatrice, it is just as well for me that they do. But people who do not think they will be able to bring up a baby shouldn’t have one. It is irresponsible. Are you really suggesting that a man who has unprotected sex with women without having the means or intention to help rear any resulting offspring is not behaving irresponsibly?

  33. Beatrice says

    I know that the vast majority of these situations happen outside of marriages or similar stable monogamous relationships.

    Yeah, that’s irresponsible sluts for you.

    Could you try being a bit more judgmental? (That was rhetorical, no need to actually prove it)

  34. Beatrice says

    Are you really suggesting that a man who has unprotected sex with women without having the means or intention to help rear any resulting offspring is not behaving irresponsibly?

    He is behaving irresponsibly.

    There is also a slight difference between that and all the talk about coercion, pressure, lack of available contraception, lack of government safety net, lack of support for poor (often young) parents, lack of proper sex education, etc.

  35. Timon for Tea says

    “Yeah, that’s irresponsible sluts for you.”

    Again, your words not mine Beatrice. That sort of language is wholly alien to me.

    And, yes, you need to judge. We all do it all the time. Irresponsible behaviour should be called out when it is damaging to other people. And a visit to the Foundling Hospital will open your eyes to how damaging it can be..

  36. Timon for Tea says

    “He is behaving irresponsibly.”

    So he is behaving irresponsibly, but she isn’t because … well, why?

  37. Beatrice says

    I’m just using words that are usually heard accompanying your attitude. You may be polite, but the filth behind the words is the same.

  38. Timon for Tea says

    “You may be polite, but the filth behind the words is the same.”

    No, you are using the words that spring to your mind when you think about certain women. I see this all over. People who resort to racist or sexist language when under pressure are usually exposing themselves in my experience.

    Anyway, I think we have just agreed that the men at least in these cases are irresponsible, so some of that ‘filth’ is yours, no?(Quite apart from your reflexive misogyny, I mean.)

  39. Beatrice says

    The coercion, pressure, expectations… don’t ring any bells. Different things being expected from men and women. Women seen as having worth only in how many babies they pop out?
    Nothing? It’s all the same to you?

    Hint: she should have access to affordable abortion without judgement, she should have access to affordable contraception without judgement. When she doesn’t… What then? There are still all the expectations. There’s still the boyfriend or family or husband.

  40. Beatrice says

    You are calling my misogynist? You serious?
    Did you read this:

    I’m just using words that are usually heard accompanying your attitude. You may be polite, but the filth behind the words is the same.

    I used those words because that’s exactly what’s behind your attitude and I won’t pretend I’m not seeing it.

  41. Timon for Tea says

    Ophelia, that’s true, I got yanked off by a passing comment and then lost in the thickets. This happens to me all the time.

    As far as the main topic of the thread is concerned, I agree with just about everybody, although I think it is a bit hard on what looks to me to be a young reporter honestly describing the experience of discovering something hard he had not understood before.

  42. Beatrice says

    Sorry for contributing to the OT conversation, Ophelia.

    The young reporter showed a rather astonishing amount of ignorance. I thought irresponsible behavior should be judged. And sucking this hard at doing research for the article is pretty irresponsible.

  43. karamea says

    Regarding the Foundling Hospital, I once went to a very interesting talk on the application process (which was put into place later on because of the huge demand for places).

    The mothers had to petition to show they were ‘deserving’. The circumstances of the conception and the character generally of the mother were investigated, complete with references from previous employers, and so on.

    A common storyline for a successful petition would be:
    The woman had been a domestic servant. She was generally hard-working and a regular church-goer. She had been misled by a young man with promises of marriage. The young man had (joined the army/moved overseas/disappeared). She had of course lost her job once her employer had found out about her ‘misfortune’. However, her employer was willing to either take her back or give her a reference so she could find other work if the child was taken in by the hospital.

    In one case a letter from the employer described the petitioner in glowing terms – she was a hard worker and he would happily recommend her to any household, provide a reference, etc. However, he could not possibly take her back under any circumstances.

    He had three daughters of his own, you see. It might give the wrong impression.

    There were various alternatives to the Foundling Hospital that might be possible, particularly if you were the ‘right sort’. There was the also the option the workhouse, where in addition to the baseline level of horribleness found in a workhouse, you might well be forced to wear a special outfit just to make sure everyone knew you were not the ‘right sort’.

    (This was so common that the Poor Law Commissioners issued a memo gently suggesting that maybe it shouldn’t be done, charmingly titled “Ignominious Dress for Unchaste Women in Workhouses”. Apparently in some cases they simply moved to more subtle methods of identification.)

    The other alternative was to pay a baby farmer to take care of the child so that you could find work. Some of these were just making money off desperate women; others found that infanticide greatly increased their profit margins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Dyer , for example)

    So basically, shitty option on top of shitty option on top of shitty option. And for every action that has been taken since then to decrease the amount of shit there have been people to complain about how you’re making it too easy. If you give people access to contraception, it’ll make them have more sex. If you support women who have babies, they’ll start having even more babies. Same shit, different century.

  44. Timon for Tea says

    “You are calling me misogynist? You serious?”

    Yes, I am serious. You have a problem with some buried misogyny. Try not using abusive misogynistic language for six months. See what it costs you emotionally.

    “I used those words because that’s exactly what’s behind your attitude and I won’t pretend I’m not seeing it.”

    No, those words are nothing to do with me. I never think of women like that. You need to look to yourself, your language betrays you. Just imagine someone else who, while purporting to agree with you about women, kept introducing similar terms for them that you use. You would think he had a problem, right?

    No more comments from me on this because I seem to have derailed things.

  45. Timon for Tea says

    “Timon, well if it happens to you all the time, then learn to watch for it and stop doing it.”

    I do, but it is surprisingly difficult to avoid. Threads can be a lot like conversations that meander around and end up far from where they started. Some blogs are more tolerant of it than others but I am trying to stick more or less to topic.

  46. Beatrice says

    Timon for Tea, here’s a dirty word for you: Fuck you, you disingenuous liar. The only sexist here is you.

    Sorry, Ophelia. I admit to having a hard time not responding when someone with one hell of a sexist attitude calls me sexist.

  47. Timon for Tea says

    Beatrice, if you can resist using misogynistic language other than in quotations for three months you will prove me wrong. Bet you can’t though. Look to yourself.

    And that really must be my last comment.

  48. plutosdad says

    Timon
    the reason is you are bandying the word “irresponsible” about without regard to the conditions people live in.

    We hardly expect teenagers to think about the rest of their lives and be careful, unless it’s a woman and it comes to sex, when we call them irresponsible. We may say “oh but I think the boys are irresponsible too” but we don’t hold them accountable or make them raise the kids.

    We call them “irresponsible”, but even in the West refuse to give them the education that they need to use contraception effectively, filling their heads with lies about how it doesn’t really work, or make it difficult to buy, or buy while still a teen.

    We call them “irresponsible” but expect them to resist the most powerful biological drive we have motivating our actions, without giving them the tools, social support, and education to do so.

    We call them “irresponsible” but don’t don’t help them be responsible, but instead make it harder.

    THAT is why everyone is on your case. You are just one more man blaming the girls and women instead of actually helping.

  49. says

    Tandon appears to be primarily a sportswriter.

    Also, I am sick unto death of the phrase “personal responsibility.” The concept is valid. Modern usage consists almost entirely of scoldingpeople for not having enough privilege to escape situations that luckier people skate right past.

    And any man who sees fit to lecture women on reproductive “responsibility” really ought to just shut the fuck up.

  50. jose says

    One of my relatives adopted a kid from Vietnam. The mother signed him up voluntarily because she could not sustain him and she wanted him to have a good life. So she offered him for adoption.

    I think in these programs you are required to meet the biological parents to make sure everything is consensual and that it’s all for the good of the kid. Seemingly this journalist has not done his homework before writing the story.

  51. Deepak Shetty says

    Rahul Tandon is a name with Indian origin so unless he’s never been to India – I find it hard to believe that he finds it hard to believe.

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