9 tsunami-hit women claim ‘Baby 81’

Associated Press

Colombo, January 15

The infant dubbed ‘Baby 81’ nurses from a bottle of milk and kicks playfully at a pink blanket as nine desperate, heartbroken women quarrel over him — all claiming he was torn from them by last month’s tsunami. One man standing outside the nursery at Kalmunai Base Hospital threatened to kill himself and his wife if they are not given the baby. A woman at the hospital said she would kill the doctors if he is not returned to her.

The battle over the wide-eyed boy, who appears to be about three or four months old, symbolizes the enormous loss in the December 26 tsunami disaster. Children accounted for a staggering 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s death toll of nearly 31,000. The loss is especially keenly felt in Ampara district, where the fight over ‘Baby 81’ is taking place. There were 10,436 people killed in Ampara, the highest in Sri Lanka. The infant, bruised and covered in mud but otherwise healthy, was brought to the hospital hours after the tsunami struck Kalmunai, a remote town in eastern Sri Lanka.

He was given the nickname because his real name is not known and he was the 81st admission that terrible day, officials said yesterday. No relatives were with him. Now, nurses in the hospital are competing to take care of the infant, a doctor said. They have put a ‘mottu’ on his forehead - a black stain to ward off evil. But the nurses are not the only ones vying for him. “Parents who have lost their children come every day to the hospital to check,” Dr KR Saseenthirian said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Some go back, and some stay and claim that the baby is theirs.” The nine women who claim the baby show up at the hospital and quarrel with each other over possession, a hospital official said on condition of anonymity. Hospital authorities asked police to investigate after some of the parents became violent, Saseenthirian said. No one was injured.