The lifeless bodies of two tiny babies are being given their final bath before burial in Karachi, after they were left to die in the city’s garbage dumps.
“They could have only been one or two days old,” says volunteer Mohammad Saleem, pointing at the two small corpses being gently washed by his colleagues at the Edhi morgue.
With rising inflation and poverty, infanticide too is increasing across the country. More than 1,000 infants — most of them girls — were killed or left to die in the country last year, according to conservative estimates by the Edhi Foundation, one of the nonprofit organisations working to reverse this grim trend.
The infanticide figures are collected only from the main cities, leaving out huge swathes of the population. The foundation says that in December alone it found 40 dead babies left in garbage dumps and sewers. The number of dead infants found last year — 1,210 — was up from 890 in 2008 and 999 in 2009, says the Edhi Foundation’s Karachi manager, Anwar Kazmi.
Tragic tales abound. Kazmi recounts when they found the body of a six-day-old infant, who had been strangled. Another child was found on the steps of a mosque — the baby had been stoned to death on the orders of an extremist imam who has since disappeared, he says.
“Do not murder, lay them here,” read the signs hanging outside the Edhi centres in Karachi. The foundation has installed cradles outside most of their centres in the hope that parents will abandon their unwanted children there, instead of leaving them to die somewhere. “People leave these children mostly because they think they are illegitimate, but they are as innocent and loveable as all human beings,” says the charity’s founder and well-known humanitarian, Abdul Sattar Edhi. Most children found are less than a week old.
Khair Mohammad, 65, works as a watchman in the charity’s vast graveyard located at the city’s outskirts. It is dotted with tiny unnamed graves. “We acquired this land to bury children after the last plot filled with hundreds of bodies,” he says. The death toll is far worse among girls, says Kazmi, with nine out of 10 dead babies being female.
“The number of infanticides of girls has substantially increased,” Kazmi says, a rise attributed to increased poverty. Girls are seen by most as a greater economic burden, that has to be ‘sold off’ with the help of a dowry.
Edhi says that up to 200 babies are left in its 400 cradles nationwide each year and that it handles thousands of requests for adoption by childless couples. Abortion is prohibited, except when the mother’s life is at risk from her pregnancy, but advocates say that legalisation would reduce infanticide and save mothers from potentially fatal back-street terminations.
According to the law, anyone found to have abandoned an infant can be jailed for seven years, while anyone guilty of secretly burying a child can be imprisoned for two years. Murder is punishable with life imprisonment.
But crimes of infanticide are rarely prosecuted. “The majority of police stations do not register cases of infanticide, let alone launch investigations into them,” said lawyer Abdul Rasheed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2011.