Baby hatches are saving lives in Pakistan | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 11.04.2012
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Asia

Baby hatches are saving lives in Pakistan

Welfare organizations and medical officials in Pakistan say the number of infanticide cases in the country have increased manifold due to poverty, illness and poor family planning.

Non-government welfare organizations in Pakistan are encouraging people to leave their children at baby hatches instead of abandoning them on streets or murdering them. Over the years, social factors such as poverty and illiteracy have contributed to a drastic increase of infanticide in Pakistan.

Non-government support

Pakistani social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi

The Edhi Foundation runs the world's largest ambulance service in Pakistan

The Edhi Foundation, founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi, a known Pakistani philanthropist and recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize and the Balzan Prize, runs 400 welfare centers across the country. Some of those centers have baby hatches, where people can leave their newborns instead of throwing them in dumpsters.

Edhi started the baby hatch project six decades ago. Since then, the foundation has been able to save the lives of thousands of newborns.

But as Edhi explained to DW, most of the children who end up at his centers are already dead. "Every year, on average, we get 25 children who are alive and around 250 who are dead. Among the children who are alive are also mentally and physically disabled ones."

Edhi explained that the foundation charges no money for the baby hatches and makes arrangements for the burial of dead children. The living ones are given up for adoption. So far, 26,000 children have been adopted.

A cradle at Edhi Foundation's baby hatch

NGOs encourage people to leave their children at baby hatches instead of killing them

"We do our research before giving these children to people. We give them to couples who have no children, who, for example, can't conceive their own," Edhi explained.

"We make sure that the couples have a decent living standard otherwise you cannot guarantee the child's security. After the child is adopted, we make visits for at least five years to make sure that they are treated well."

Poverty, illness, rape

Edhi works with his wife, Bilquis. She is a social worker who understands the societal pressures that drive people to abandon their children. "There are a number of reasons why people abandon their children … there are women who have been raped and then give birth to a child; some women leave their kids because they want to remarry. Other reasons include poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and no training in family planning. We know a lot of women in Pakistan with 12 or more children," she said.

Bilquis Edhi

Bilquis Edhi is used to receiving threats from religious extremists

Pakistan Medical Association's president Dr. Samrina Hashmi confirmed the increase of infanticide in Pakistan.

"There is no family planning in Pakistan. Women give birth to children without proper intervals. When people can't afford a child, they give it to some social trust," Hashmi told DW.

But according to religious scholar Allama Zaheer Abidi, Islam does not permit people to leave their children at a charity house, though doing so was better than killing children, he admitted.

"If these people followed the teachings of Islam, such things would never happen in the first place," Abidi told DW.

"People who kill these infants because of poverty, forget that Allah has promised to provide food to everybody."

Bilquis Edhi said she and her husband received threats from religious groups on a number of occasions. "They say we are not Muslims because we adopt illegitimate children. These people have been criticizing us for a long time."

Author: Unbreen Fatima / ss
Editor: Sarah Berning

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