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 Claiming 'Baby 81'
Nine women claim to be the mother of Tsunami baby in hospital
The Associated Press
Jan. 14, 2005 - 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 the tsunami.

The infant dubbed 'Baby 81' lies in a hospital bed in Kalmunai, Eastern Sri Lanka, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005.  The fate of the baby now lies in the hands of the courts, and ultimately a DNA test to determine parentage, say hospital officials.

(AP Photo / Vincent Thian)

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 unless she gets him.

The battle over the wide-eyed boy, who appears to be about three or four months old, symbolizes the enormous loss in the Dec. 26 disaster.

Children accounted for a staggering 40 percent or 12,000 of Sri Lanka's death toll of nearly 31,000. In all, nearly 160,000 people have died across southern Asia.

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 that is home to Muslims and Tamils. It was partly cut off after a major bridge was swept away by the deadly waves.

He was given the nickname because his real name is not known and he was the 81st admission that terrible day, officials said Friday. 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.

The nurses are not the only ones vying for "Baby 81."

"Parents who have lost their children come every day to the hospital to check," Dr. K.R. Saseenthirian said Friday in a telephone interview. "Some stay and claim that the baby is theirs."

The nine women who claim "Baby 81" show up at the hospital and quarrel with each other, a hospital official said.

"Most of the parents who came and claimed that this is their baby are really believing that this is their baby," Dr. K. Muhunthan, an obstetrician, told Sky TV.

"Maybe they are not lying, because they have lost a baby of the same age and all the babies they look at look like their own child," he said.

Hospital authorities asked police to investigate after some of the parents became violent, Saseenthirian said. No one was injured.

"Now it will have to be a court decision. If the court asks us to conduct DNA tests, we will do that," Saseenthirian said.

The infant dubbed 'Baby 81' is held by a nurse in a hospital in Kalmunai, Eastern Sri Lanka, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005. The fate of the baby now lies in the hands of the courts, and ultimately a DNA test to determine parentage, say hospital officials.

(AP Photo / Vincent Thian)



DNA tests are expensive in this poor region, however, and it was unclear who would pay or where they might be done.

Another doctor in charge of the children's ward said "Baby 81" was the only child without his parents in the hospital.

"We have 25 babies, but all of them have their mother or father," said Dr. Kandaswamy Muruganathan.

"Our Baby 81 is alone, but then all the nurses want to attend to him," he said.

"He is a healthy baby and feeding well on cow milk. We have no problem, he is fine," Muruganathan said by telephone.

UNICEF says preliminary data indicate that nearly 1,000 children were orphaned by the tsunami in Sri Lanka and 3,200 more lost one parent.

Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to this report. Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

Judge to hear evidence on tsunami baby

'Baby 81' is given back his real name

@ copyright of Telegraph Group Limited

By Peter Foster
(Filed: 15/02/2005)

His was the angelic face that came to embody the grief wrought by the Boxing Day tsunami - a face that, until yesterday, could be known only by a number, not a name.

To the world he was Baby 81, a reference to the hospital tag given to him by doctors in the fishing hamlet of Kalumnai on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

However, to his mother, a barber's wife named Jenita Jeyarajah, from whose arms he was swept by the surging waters, his name was always Abilassh.

In Kalumnai's provincial court yesterday, Mrs Jeyarajah, 25, finally won the right to take back her baby's identity after 51 days of heartbreak and legal wrangling.

Nine other grief-stricken mothers had tried to claim Abilassh but DNA tests confirmed beyond doubt that Baby 81 belonged to Mrs Jeyarajah and her husband, Murugupillai.

In front of a hushed courtroom the district judge, M P Mohadeen, opened the sealed envelope that ended a dispute that had brought Mr and Mrs Jeyarajah to the point of suicide.

"This is an historic case," he said, ordering Baby 81 be formally handed over to his parents tomorrow afternoon.

"Our prayers are answered," said Mr Jeyarajah, who earlier this month stood up in court and threatened to swallow a handful of pills if Baby 81 was not returned to him. "We were always confident but now that it is confirmed we are very happy. Now no one will question us or the baby."

His wife, who for the past two months has only been able to see her son in hospital twice a week, was promised another visit last night.

"We are very happy," she said, adding that when her son was back in her arms she would keep her promise to smash 100 coconuts at the temple of Ganesh, the Hindu god of welcome and good fortune.

The story of Baby 81 begins on the evening of Dec 26 when one of the Jeyarajah family's neighbours was walking among the shattered remains of their fishing village.

With hundreds of corpses still littering the ground, it seemed impossible that anyone could have survived. But the neighbour found three-month-old Abilassh, caked in mud and covered by a thick layer of rubbish, still breathing.

The child was taken to hospital in nearby Kalumnai where he was entered into the paediatric ward's register as patient number 81.

Exhausted nurses and doctors tended to his many bruises, placing a dark stain or "mottu" on his forehead to ward off evil.

In a country where the death toll left everyone numb - of the 40,000 dead, almost 16,000 were children, according to Unicef - Abilassh became a symbol of immense suffering and a focal point of hope for the future.

The story of his survival took on near-mythical proportions as bereaved parents, many deranged with grief, went to the hospital to claim the "miracle" baby as their own.

Staff took to keeping Baby 81 in the operating theatre at night for fear that a bereaved mother might be unable to resist the temptation to snatch him away.

One nurse said at the time: "Some people come and have a look at the baby. Some people stay near the cradle for several minutes, some cry and some stay on."

When, in early January, Mr and Mrs Jeyarajah found Abilassh and claimed him as their own, it was too late.

Even the testimony of their neighbour, who vouched for the couple in court, was not sufficient to bring him home. Mrs Jeyarajah said she could point at the precise spot on her own head where her son carried a small birthmark, and described the individual shape of his ear. But still not everyone was convinced.

For more than a month the fate of Baby 81 filled untold column inches of newspaper space, becoming the emotional property of a nation that now has almost 1,000 orphans and 3,400 children who have lost one of their parents.

Twice a week Mrs Jeyarajah was allowed to visit, but only on condition that she did not lift the child from its crib, an experience she described as "like visiting a prisoner in jail".

Even when all the other parents dropped their claims to Baby 81 and the Jeyarajahs were the only couple officially filing for custody, the waiting was not over.

Their breaking point was reached earlier this month when, after being told to expect that they would be granted custody, Mr and Mrs Jeyarajah arrived in court to be told that they would have to submit to a DNA test.

On leaving the court the Jeyarajahs, supported by family and friends, stormed into the hospital demanding to see their child.

In images seen around the world, Mrs Jeyarajah grabbed her son and cradled him possessively to her chest.

In the resulting melee, as hospital staff accused Mrs Jeyarajah of trying to snatch the child, the police were called to arrest the couple.

Last night, Mrs Jeyarajah held her son in her arms once again. "My darling... Oh my darling... we will soon go home," she cooed. "In two days we will go home my darling... do not worry. We will soon go home," she whispered, kissing his hands, cheeks and forehead.

@ copyright of Telegraph Group Limited

Tsunami baby goes home with parents

02/17/2005 @ USA Today

A 4-month-old boy who was swept from his mother's arms in the Asian tsunami was returned Wednesday to his parents after a custody battle that lasted nearly eight weeks. Jenita Jeyarajah, 25, took back the boy, known as “Baby 81,” after the judge said that DNA tests confirmed he was her son, Abilass.

The boy was found on a beach among debris Dec. 26, the day the waves struck. He was taken to a hospital in Kalmunai, Sri Lanka, where he was given the name Baby 81 because he was the day's 81st admission. The Jeyarajahs initially couldn't prove Abilass was theirs because family records were lost in the tsunami. The hospital refused to release the baby until the matter was settled in court. Eight other women initially claimed him, but only the Jeyarajahs went to court.

Brazil sent about 2,000 soldiers to restore order in the Amazon rain forest region where an American nun was shot to death Saturday. Peasants and loggers are vying for the area's natural resources. The move to send in troops came hours after thousands of people gathered Wednesday to bury Dorothy Stang, 73. Stang, originally from Dayton, Ohio, helped develop projects to sustain the poor in the area of Anapu, a town of 7,000 on the Amazon's southern edge.

After more than a year of peace talks, India and Pakistan have agreed to start the first bus service between the capitals of Kashmir. Both countries claim the region. The bus service would reconnect families separated for decades by the Pakistani and Indian armies. Service between Muzzafarabad on the Pakistani side and Srinagar on the Indian side will start April 7.

The Kashmir region has been at the root of two wars between Pakistan and India. India accuses Pakistan of funding and training rebels that have attacked its people. Pakistan says it gives the rebels only moral and political support.

Three transplant recipients in Germany are in critical condition after receiving organs that appear to have been infected with rabies. Three others who received transplants from the same donor, a woman who died of a heart attack late last year, are doing fine, the German Foundation for Organ Transplants said.

Only five cases of rabies had been recorded in Germany in the past 20 years, the group said. It would be the first time the virus had been transmitted via transplantation in Germany, it said. The donor showed no rabies symptoms at the time of her death, but a recent examination of her brain showed typical signs of the disease, the group said.


Reborn in court delivery

After 53 days of legal and bureaucratic battles and DNA tests, Kalmunai’s tsunami baby, Abilash, who hit world headlines is reunited with his parents

@ Sunday Times; By Mahangu Weerasinghe

Photographers and camera crews swarm the corridors, spilling over the porch and out into the parched garden. The courtroom itself houses more than 200 people. The magistrate has graciously allowed television crews to set up their tripods on the sides of the Bar table, and the camera assistants stand next to them, knowing that their positions will be snatched up if they budge an inch.

The case is called, but the baby is not here yet. The magistrate decides to move on with some other cases before coming back to Baby 81. There is waiting, and fidgeting, and more waiting. The hall is stuffy, but nobody dares move. Everyone wants the perfect picture, the perfect take and a perfect piece of Asia's little miracle.

Meanwhile at the hospital, the staff is in a hurry to get the baby to the courthouse just down the road. "The case has been called," whispers Inspector Jamil. Resident gynaecologist Dr. Muhundan rushes to get the baby ready. An ambulance is brought to a side entrance of the hospital, and a nurse carrying the child gets into the vehicle. They are escorted by four armed police officers.

Earlier that morning, the media were allowed in to the Children's Ward of the Kalmunai Base Hospital to see Abilash Jeyarajah's last few hours as Baby 81. Wearing a pink dress due to lack of other clothing, Abilash lay in his cot and amused himself. The ward nurses say he is a very good baby, and this is evident by the way he remained unaffected by all the camera flashes going off around him. "Perhaps he is used to all the attention by now," joked one nurse.

"He was called Baby 81 because that is the number on his bed head ticket," explained Acting Matron of the hospital, Komala Sivanantharaja, the nurse-in-charge on the day the baby was brought in. She recalls the moment with mixed emotions.

"He was barely breathing when he was brought in - he hadn't been fed for over eight hours and we had to give him dextrose to re-hydrate him. But the hospital was full of bodies and we could not keep the child here so Nurse Pushparani took him home and brought him back when things were better around here," she said.

The hospital was cleared and reopened on December 28, two days after the tsunami. The infant had been in Ward 5 (the Children's Ward) ever since. Back at the courthouse, there is a mad rush to the door. The ambulance has just arrived, and everyone swarms around. The nurse emerges and is escorted to the door by the Police guard. At the entrance, there is a bottleneck of people. "Move, move," shout the police officers as the nurse manages to squeeze through and make her way to a seat near the witness stand. Through all this drama, the baby lies peacefully in her arms, looking with large eyes at everything going on around him.

The Court Mudliyar calls the case and pandemonium erupts as everyone tries to get closer to Abilash. "Don't disturb the court, media please don't disturb the court proceedings," Magistrate M. P. Mohideen orders, trying his best to be heard above the din. A cameraman tries to get a better angle by standing on a court bench but is promptly asked to get down by the police.

"Please do not use your cameras now," says the magistrate as he begins to read the 22-page handover order. It is a long wait of half an hour for everyone. Most of all Jenita, the baby’s mother, and Murugupillai, the father, are visibly finding it hard to control their emotions. Tears streak down their faces as they put up with this last legal snag. They know that soon they will have their son in their arms again.

Magistrate Mohideen, remarking on the case, said he did not understand media reports that claimed that there were nine claimants to the baby. "There was always only one claiming party, the Jeyarajahs," he said.

The magistrate gave fourfold reason for ordering the baby to be given to the couple. Apart from the DNA tests matching, the magistrate noted that the couple had offered to undergo a DNA test in the first place, thus eliminating the likelihood of impersonation or foul play. He also cited the fact that no claims had come from other parents, even weeks after Abilash's photo appeared in papers and on TV screens worldwide. Finally, the magistrate said his order (on Wednesday) was merely confirming what he had already ruled on the 12th of January.

At 11:10, Magistrate Mohideen finishes reading the order in Tamil, and asks for the baby to be given over to his parents. Jenita takes the baby in her arms and holds him up to her face, kissing his cheeks. Cameramen scamper around for a picture, and she holds the baby and smiles, tears running down her own cheeks. Murugupillai stands aside and ushers his wife towards the exit.

The magistrate has by now left the courtroom and the media circus heightens. Cameramen and photographers crowd around the couple as they exit. Jenita holds the baby against her bosom, trying to protect him from the shoving going on around her. She is visibly upset and even the presence of UNICEF officials doesn't appear to help. Eventually, she is led through the media throng to a UNICEF jeep.

The rest of the day is spent in religious ceremonies. Jenita and Murugupillai keep their vow of breaking 100 coconuts at the Sithivinayagar Temple in Kalmunai. The couple visits four other temples to fulfil similar vows. The family also visit the site of their former home, and feed the baby milk there as a token of good luck.

Finally, after nearly three hours of travelling around Kalmunai, the family arrives at Jenita's aunt's house, where they have found temporary residence. Relatives and family gather around to eat from the fruits offered in the day's poojas. Abilash, as expected, is the centre of attraction.

Murugupillai, the proud father, pries himself away from his son for a few moments to speak to The Sunday Times. "I cannot express my joy in words. We had been through a lot of grief these past few weeks but finally it's all over," he said. "But at the same time we remember all those lost in the tsunami, especially since many of those lost were children."

He said that they remembered all the tsunami victims in their poojas that day. Shri Skandarajah, the man who found Abilash on the evening of December 26, explained how he came upon the baby.

Mr. Skandarajah, or 'Shri Master' as he is known to locals, had worked since morning clearing the area of bodies and getting the injured to hospital. "It was around 6 p.m. and I was hungry. I saw a packet of biscuits on a rubbish heap and reached for it. It was then that I heard a sound, a sound like that of a chicken clucking. I cleared the rubbish and found the baby underneath," he said.

Shri Master said he met the grieving Jeyarajah couple at a refugee camp and told them that he had rescued their child and handed him over to the Kalmunai hospital. The bureaucratic process by then had already started, resulting in the 53-day battle for the baby. "I should never have given the baby to the hospital," Shri Master regretted.

Back at his new home, Abilash is fed by his mother. "We are still not sure if I should breastfeed him or not," said Jenita. "He has been on formula for seven and a half weeks now so maybe he is used to it," she explained. Jenita said she would consult a doctor before she resumes breastfeeding.

It's now evening, and Jenita, with the help of her mother Parameshwari, takes Abilash down to the well for his bath. Filling a pink bathtub to the brim, she slowly slides her son in. Abilash lets out a loud wail. The water is cold, and he obviously doesn't like it. Around him, though, everyone is all smiles. His crying is proof that he is indeed very much alive. And finally, after all this time, he is all theirs

Baby 81 in New York


Baby and parents get  expedited visa

March 2, 2005


NEW YORK -- Tsunami survivor ''Baby 81,'' the 4-month-old Sri Lankan infant whose parents fought a court battle to get him back after the disaster, arrived in New York with his parents Tuesday for an appearance on American television.

Baby 81's real name is Abilass Jeyarajah. He and his parents, Murugupillai and Jenita, were granted expedited visas by the U.S. Embassy so that they could appear on ABC's ''Good Morning America'' this morning. ABC paid for the trip.

Abilass was pulled from his mother's arms by the tsunami of Dec. 26 and was found, caked in mud, hours later by rescuers who took him to a hospital, where he was dubbed Baby 81 because he was the 81st person admitted that day.


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