“Baby 81,” the infant who became a symbol of families torn apart by the tsunami, arrived in the Sri Lankan capital Wednesday to undergo DNA tests that may help determine his real parents.
The 3-month-old boy has been cared for in a hospital in the eastern town of Kalmunai since Dec. 26, after he was found caked in mud amid the debris and corpses left by the killer waves.
Nine women initially claimed the boy, but only one couple has formally pressed their case with authorities, resulting in the court-ordered DNA test.
Nurses in Kalmunai said goodbye to Baby 81, and he was put in an ambulance with extra diapers and feeding bottles for the nine-hour journey to the capital along bumpy forest roads where traffic must sometimes yield to wild elephants.
“We are here,” said Mohammed Nazir, a court official who accompanied the 3-month-old boy on the 186-mile journey to Colombo in an ambulance filled with diapers and feeding bottles. “Baby 81 is fine.”
The trip — made under police escort — could help bring closure to one of the world’s most-watched custody cases.
The child arrived Wednesday morning at the lab followed by Murugupillai and Jenita Jeyarajah, who say he is their son Abilass. The child will have blood drawn and tested against samples from the couple.
The infant became known as “Baby 81” because he was the 81st person to be admitted to the Kalmunai hospital on the day the tsunami swept across southern Asia and killed tens of thousands of people.
Dr. K. Muhunthan has cared for the boy since he was brought to the hospital.
Maya B. Gunasekera, chief executive of Genetech Molecular Diagnostics, which will perform the tests, told The Associated Press that at least two days would be needed for the results to be known. Gunasekera said the tests can typically achieve 99.9 percent certainty of parentage.
Under Sri Lankan law, the results must be sent by registered mail to the judge, which could take another two to three days.
The Jeyarajahs have spent an agonizing seven weeks trying to prove the boy is their son. The tsunami destroyed their home and family records.
On Feb. 2, Judge M.P. Mohaideen ordered a DNA test and scheduled April 20 to announce the results — a delay that seemed like an eternity to the couple, who later appeared at the hospital to care for the child pending a court decision.
A melee broke out in which two hospital employees claimed they were injured, and the Jeyarajahs were taken into custody but released that evening. A day later, Mohaideen suggested the results could be announced sooner.
The laboratory’s Web site says it normally takes 10-14 days for a DNA paternity test, which costs $90. UNICEF, which is trying to reunite separated families, has offered to pay.