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Pakistan's conservative society looks down upon unmarried mothers and doesn't allow abortionsImage: Donatella Giagnori/MAXPPP/Eidon/picture alliance
SocietyPakistan

Pakistan: Saving the lives of 'unwanted' children

Jamila Achakzai Islamabad
December 9, 2022

Babies born out of wedlock are usually dumped on the roadside or on garbage heaps in Pakistan. Some charity organizations are providing an alternative to the parents of these children.

https://p.dw.com/p/4KjGb

In the dark of night, parents leave the "unwanted" newborns in outdoor cribs put in place by the Edhi Foundation, one of the most well-known charity organizations in Pakistan. The foundation's workers then bring the infants to their shelter.

The Edhi Foundation has installed around 300 "baby hatches" across the country. In 1952, the organization's founder, Abdul Sattar Edhi, launched this project, called "jhoola" (cradle), to save the lives of "unwanted" children.

"Our project aims to save the lives of the newborns who were previously dumped on garbage heaps, on the roadside, or in deserted areas," Faisal Edhi, the NGO's head, told DW.

Replicating the project, Chhipa Welfare Association has placed over 100 hatches in Karachi, Pakistan's financial hub. Other charity organizations, too, are running orphanages across the country, but they don't receive as many abandoned children as the Edhi Foundation or Chhipa Welfare Association.

Why are people abandoning their babies in Pakistan?

In Pakistan, most children thrown out on the streets are born out of wedlock as a result of unprotected sex. Also, many rape victims who get pregnant don't have the facilities to abort the child and thus discard the newborns.

Pakistan's conservative society looks down upon unmarried mothers and doesn't allow abortions. This means that children born out of wedlock are either murdered or mercilessly discarded.

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"Girls make up 95% of the children left at our centers because poor, conservative families consider them a financial burden," Edhi underlined.

The organization keeps these children in its orphanages or puts them up for adoption to married couples after thorough interviews and verifications.

"We keep a tab on these parents after they adopt a child," Edhi said.

Muhammad Shahid, an official at Chhipa Welfare Association, told DW that most of the abandoned infants are found in the outskirts of Pakistani cities.

"Around 70% of these children are girls, and almost half of them are left out there dead," he added.

Niaz Muhammad, a doctor at Polyclinic Hospital in Islamabad, says only a handful of women go to hospitals to deliver "illegitimate babies," adding that some mothers just run away from the hospital after delivering a child.

Can parents be jailed for abandoning their babies in Pakistan?

Child abandonment is a punishable offense under Pakistani law. "According to the Pakistan Penal Code, abandoning a child under the age of 12 by his or her father, mother or guardian in any place could be jailed for seven years. If the child dies as a result of this, there could also be a murder trial against parents," said Nadeem Farhat Gilani, a lawyer.

Muhammad Arshad, a police official in Islamabad, said that law enforcement agencies encourage people to leave the newborns with charity organizations rather than killing or abandoning them on the roadside.

An abandoned baby's death is treated as a premeditated murder, so the police are bound by the law to act, Arshad said, adding that in many cases, the culprits can't be traced, therefore they get away with infanticides.

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What do Pakistan's Islamic leaders think of baby hatches?

Pakistan's Islamic groups oppose baby hatches, arguing they don't address the root cause of the problem.

Muhammad Kamil, a cleric, told DW that the entire society needs to reform to deal with the issue. "We need to first ascertain why people abandon babies and then take corrective measures instead of just adopting abandoned babies," he said.

But Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology that advises the government and parliament on religious issues, believes leaving "unwanted" infants in hatches is a better act than killing these babies or dumping them.

The "illegitimate children don't choose to be born out of wedlock, therefore their parents are responsible for this, not the children," he said.

"In Islam, adultery is sin, and so is killing a person," he added.

Edited by: Shamil Shams

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