DNA tests reunite Baby 81 with his real parents after six weeks

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The Independent Online

A baby whose parentage set bereaved families fighting to claim him as their own in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka will go home with his real mother and father tomorrow.

A baby whose parentage set bereaved families fighting to claim him as their own in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka will go home with his real mother and father tomorrow.

The boy was known just as Baby 81, but DNA tests show he is Abilash Jeyarajah, the son of Murugupillai, 30, and Jenita Jeyarajah, 25, from the eastern town of Kalmunai. Up to 14 other sets of parents had tried to claim the four-month old.

The battle for Baby 81 became a symbol of the desperate emotional strife that gripped grieving Sri Lankan communities after the disaster. Two weeks ago, the Jeyarajahs marched on the hospital where the baby was being kept and tried to snatch him.

But now a judge has announced that the DNA tests prove they are the parents of the boy, rescued by a neighbour from under mud and rubble. The judge unsealed the results from an envelope during a hearing attended only by lawyers. "This is the first such case in Sri Lanka and it is a historic case," he added.

Junita Jeyarajah wept tears of relief yesterday after her lawyer told her she was to get her baby back. She declared she would offer thanks for the decision by smashing 100 coconuts at a temple of the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesh, offer sweet rice to the warrior god, Murugan, and kill a rooster for the goddess Kali.

"I knew he was my baby," she told reporters. "I thank God and I am very happy. We will go and see the baby this evening. We're just so happy."

The family lost all their belongings and documents when giant waves of water crashed ashore on 26 December. Since then, they have been living in a camp close to Kalmunai. But yesterday, as Abilash's mother wept with relief, his father said the loss of belongings was unimportant. He had his son now. "I am so happy, and I only have to thank God for giving my child back," Mr Jeyarajah said. "We've got the results for all our hardships."

The couple were arrested but released on bail after invading the hospital where the boy was treated for bruises on his head. It was claimed they removed him from his cot, saying they had come to take their son back.

They had felt frustrated at a court ruling that ordered the DNA tests, because of the conflicting claims of various other parents. The child was known as Baby 81, because he was the 81st casualty admitted to the Kalmunai hospital on 26 December.

Although many families claimed him, the Jeyarajahs were the most vocal in their insistence that the baby was theirs and medical staff at the hospital said it seemed most likely they were the parents. In particular, the mother had described a large birthmark on the side of his head in detail before being allowed to see the boy.

The tsunami left about 1,000 orphans in the country, the United Nations children's fund, Unicef, has said. Children made up 40 per cent of the dead in Sri Lanka, where more than 31,000 people perished. Across the Indian Ocean region, more than 250,000 people are thought to have died, including 147,000 officially listed as missing.

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