“The trend to leave new born children in the open cradle of our offices has become far too common. We rescued over a dozen children last month and many others were found abandoned on the side or the road or in trash cans,” said volunteer Safdar.
A survey conducted by Edhi workers has revealed that several couples abandoned their new born children in an empty crib chained to the pillars of the foundation’s offices in Faisalabad. The Edhi Foundation places several jhaloos (cradles) outside all its offices in every city of the province. “We used to see a couple of children being abandoned at the centre every year but the numbers are rising considerably. We now have several incidents every month,” he said. Edhi volunteers said that they had witnessed unprecedented numbers of abandoned children being dropped off the centre this year and had decided to install cribs in other parts of the city.
The situation has also perturbed law enforcement officials. “I saw at least four of the children in the morning, while I was making rounds and informed the NGO workers inside,” said constable Rana Shoaib.
Out of the abandoned children, three were male and nine were female. Three of the children died from health complications and the remaining children were shifted to Karachi for adoption and/or rehabilitation.
Edhi Centre Foundation, Liaqat Road centre supervisor Rana Tahir Mahmood confirmed that 12 children were recovered by the centre workers during the past month. “Eleven cradles have been put up in different parts of Faisalabad so that these children are not abandoned on the streets,” he said.
Mahmood said that many of the children were taken into custody and given shelter in Edhi Homes.
He told that although such facility was available in various parts of the city, there were still people who avoid dropping off their children at the centre fearing punitive action according to the law. “We are facing a lot of pressure from different quarters to close this operation of lifting unwanted kids but the Edhi organisation has decided to carry on the service. We are saving lives and we will not stop,” he added.
He further contended that there were scores of reports of abandoned children all over the city, where infants had been found deserted in canals, drains, filth deports and other places. “The Edhi Foundation also recovers such abandoned children and provides them with proper care,” he said.
Mr Tahir said that the Edhi centre had devised a complete system to protect these children. “After the babies are lifted from the jhaloos, they are shifted to a private hospital and given a complete physical check up. Then they are shifted to our main offices in Karachi,” Tahir said.
A comprehensive and transparent system has been introduced in this regard. The Karachi Edhi office, led by Bilquis Edhi, then hands the children over for adoption. Bashir Ahmad, a social worker working for the Child Protection Bureau (CPB), said that the fear of punitive action from law enforcement authorised under Hadood Ordinance prevents many families from adopting children. “The laws are meant to act as a deterrent for people trying to exploit the children by using them to earn money via beggary or in child trafficking,” he said.
A senior police officer said that during the last four years police officials had also recovered several children abandoned in trash cans and junkyards. “We have found several abandoned infants in junkyards surrounded by trash and rodents,” he said. “Many of the children were dead when we found them, which indicates that their parents had thrown them away hours after their birth,” he added.
“I found seven children in garbage centres this year and four of them were dead. There is no system to record or register these cases so we just list them in the roznamcha,” he said.
He said that the main reason for the rising trend was acute poverty. “However, over 80 per cent of the abandoned children are girls and this reflects a social stigma,” he said.
Aslam Miraj, a leader of a well establish labour organisation, said they were receiving continuous complaints that industrial workers are finding it harder and harder to feed their families.
“I am against the act but I cannot judge those who do this. I have seven children and I cannot feed my family. If I had another, I might do the same,” said a worker, Khurram.
Dr. Zafar Iqbal, a social scientist, said that many of the children were abandoned because their birth was the result of an illicit union. “Several abandoned children are the result of adulterous affairs and are abandoned at birth. In cases where poverty is the main factor, people need to promote birth control to prevent pregnancy rather than claim poverty as an excuse,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2011.
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