COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A judge will begin hearing evidence next week from nine women who each claim that an infant dubbed “Baby 81” is her lost child, officials said Wednesday.
One month after being separated from his family during the Indian Ocean tsunami, the child is being cared for at a hospital in eastern Sri Lanka where he was the 81st admission on the day of the disaster.
Judge M.P. Mohaideen, in the eastern town of Kalmunai, said he will start hearing evidence next Tuesday.
“I will go through all the evidence and if I am not satisfied, I will order a DNA test,” Mohaideen said.
DNA testing is uncommon and expensive in less-developed eastern Sri Lanka, and would require sending samples to the capital, Colombo.
“At least, we can now say that the case is moving,” police inspector H.M.P. Herath said. Two doctors from Kalmunai Base Hospital and the nine women claiming Baby 81 will be called to testify, he said.
Dr. K. Muhunthan, head of the hospital’s pediatric unit, said the child, who is about 4 months old, was “doing fine.”
Police became involved in the case when one of the mothers threatened suicide if she failed to get custody of the baby. Tempers raged to the point that hospital officials feared parents might try to seize the baby by force.
Among the women claiming the child is Jenita Jeyarajah, who grabbed her son and younger sister and climbed up a raised concrete slab for safety when the wave struck her home. The force of the water broke the slab, tearing her son from her arms as all three fell helplessly into the raging waters.
Jeyarajah and her family believe her son Abilass is Baby 81, but all her records were destroyed.
The desperate struggle over the infant is an extreme example of the tragedy of the tsunami that claimed the lives of about 12,000 children out of a total death toll of at least 31,000 in Sri Lanka.
More than 10,000 deaths were reported in Ampara district, where Kalmunai is located. Baby 81 was brought to the hospital covered in mud by an old man who said he found the infant on the beach.