'Baby 81' identity case goes to court
Nurses were saying goodbye to a child they have cared for since the disaster.
KALMUNAI, Sri Lanka (AP) -- The custody battle over "Baby 81," the wide-eyed boy found alive among bodies and debris left by the Asian tsunami, goes to a Sri Lankan court today.
Nine women have claimed the child as their own, though one couple has emerged as the presumed parents of Baby 81, named for his status as the 81st admission to the hospital the day the tsunami struck. Expectations were high the judge would order a DNA test to confirm the claim.
Murugupillai Jeyarajah and his wife, 25-year-old Jenita, hoped the court would simply hand the child over to them. They say his name is Abilass and he was born Oct. 19.
"I believe in God, and I am sure my baby will be given to me," said Jeyarajah, a 31-year-old barber.
A court on Jan. 12 ordered the hospital in eastern Sri Lanka to give the baby to the Jeyarajahs temporarily until his parentage could be determined. Jeyarajah and his wife are the only claimants who have filed a formal police report to retrieve the child, a necessary legal step.
But Kalmunai Base Hospital doctors, who said they were concerned about the many rival claims, refused to comply, arguing the child still needed medical attention, according to court documents seen by The Associated Press.
"Maybe the couple is not lying, but the only way to make sure 100 percent is to have a DNA test," said Dr. K. Muhunthan, an obstetrician at the hospital. "We cannot give away orphans first-come, first-served. We must be neutral."
No other claimants were expected to testify in court, although the proceedings were still open to last-minute additions.
On Tuesday, the hospital's 82 nurses and nine midwives took turns visiting Baby 81, anticipating he may soon be leaving them.
"I am praying that the baby goes to the correct parents," said nurse S. Rajeswaran. "At the same time I don't want to let the baby go as I have become very attached to him. I will be very sad."
Baby 81's plight has become emblematic of the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster's effect on families. In Sri Lanka alone, the waves claimed the lives of some 12,000 children, about 40 percent of Sri Lanka's death toll of 31,000.
Baby 81 survived among dead bodies and rubble until he was found by rescuers nine hours after the tsunami hit.
Doctors have allowed the Jeyarajahs to visit the boy twice a week on condition they not lift him from his crib.
"It's like visiting a prisoner," Jenita Jeyarajah said.
The case has been hard on the couple.
"If the judge does not give the baby to us, we will both commit suicide," Murugupillai Jeyarajah said Tuesday, as friends tried to calm him.
Ahead of the court session, many in the town were eager for an end to the turmoil.
"This baby has gone through enough trouble," said police inspector H.M.P. Herath. "Time has now come for him to go home."