Sri Lanka's 'Baby 81' reunited with parents

Shanthakumari, a staff member at Kalmunai Base Hospital, carries the tsunami survivor infant dubbed "Baby 81" in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Wednesday, Feb. 9. Officials used DNA tests to resolve a case that came to symbolize families torn apart by the disaster.Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The 4-month-old boy who was swept from his mother’s arms by the Dec. 26 tsunami and later nicknamed “Baby 81” was handed to his parents in a courtroom reunion Wednesday after an agonizing, eight-week custody battle.

A smiling Jenita Jeyarajah, mother of the little Abilass, who was dressed in blue clothes and a pink cap, took her son from a doctor after she and her husband, Murugupillai, approached the bench in a courtroom packed with onlookers.

The reunion concluded a drama that captured hearts in Sri Lanka and around the world, and came two days after a judge confirmed the infant’s parentage with DNA test results. Initially, eight other couples had tried to claim the baby.

Moments after the brief court proceedings, the couple and Abilass left in a UNICEF vehicle to a local hospital, where the family prayed at a Hindu temple and the father smashed a coconut to fulfill the couple’s vows for the son’s return.

He carried the baby around the shrine, as other family members around them chanted prayers and raised their hands in a sign of worship. Shortly after, they left in the vehicle again, probably heading to their temporary home.

The couple was initially unable to prove the boy was theirs because their home and family records were swept away by the Dec. 26 tsunami. A court ordered the boy kept in the hospital until the DNA results came in.

The raging waters pulled the boy from his mother’s arms, and rescuers recovered him from mud and debris hours later. They brought him to the hospital, where he became the day’s 81st admission, earning him the nickname “Baby 81.”

Murugupillai Jeyarajah said that he and his wife, Jenita, won’t overtly celebrate their son’s homecoming out of respect for parents who lost their children in the tragedy.

“We just have to thank the gods for this favor. We will have to fulfill the vows,” Jeyarajah said on Tuesday. “To me, he’s God’s child, otherwise he could not have escaped from the tsunami.