A group of leprosy children on the seesaw. This photo was taken in the 1930s.

A group of leprosy children on the seesaw. This photo was taken in the 1930s.


Child Separation

Infants in the settlement's Babies Home were given up for adoption.After a married couple in the Sungai Buloh Settlement had a child, the Medical Superintendent would usually encourage the female inmate to undergo sterilization because patients were not allowed to raise their children in the leprosarium for fear that the children would contract the disease.

There are no cases of married patients giving birth to children with leprosy; the second generation are all normal and healthy. However, infants born to leprosy patients were strictly segregated and forbidden from living together with their parents. In the early years, the Sungai Buloh Settlement set up a "Babies' Home". After the babies were born, the parents were allowed one look at their children before the babies were whisked away to the "Babies' Home".

In the following six months, the parents were permitted one visit per month, and each visit was limited to one hour. Within those six months, the parents had to find a relative or friend who was willing to keep the baby, or else arrange for a place for the baby to go to. Those without relatives to take care of the baby turned to the settlement authorities or the welfare department to search for suitable adoptive parents, or had their children be taken care of by welfare homes. Once an adoptive family was found, the authorities would request the biological parents to sign a letter of consent whereby they gave up custody of the child. And with a single stroke of the pen, a child's entire life would be rewritten.

Letter of consent for adoption. The last part of the letter of consent states: "For the sake of this child and knowing it to be in his/her interests, I/we make this gesture of my/our own free will, fully conscious that I/we have renounced all my/our claims of this child now, or at any time in the future."

Some of these adopted children came searching for their biological parents after learning the story of their birth through their birth certificates. Yet others had adoptive parents who remained tight-lipped and so never informed the children about their origins. As a result, these children settled down in other places or countries without knowing their ancestry. Some resident who were unable to raise their children entrusted the care of their children to friends in villages near the leprosarium and paid for the children's monthly living expenses. These children were very fortunate compared to those who were sent to complete strangers. Nevertheless, they were the offspring of leprosy patients and thus, throughout their childhood, they carried an extra burden of the secret of their birth.

Those resident who survived erosion of body parts due to leprosy are all elderly now. Yet, the most painful thing in their lives is not the numerous deep or shallow leprosy scars on their body, but the fact that they have been unable to find their missing children. Their deepest regret is not being reunited with their children.