RAWALPINDI: Sickened with grief and riddled with cancer, Nazima Bibi died 10 days after a woman snatched her five-year-old daughter from a busy hospital waiting room in Islamabad.
The 35-year-old housewife had been sitting on a bench with her baby son and daughter Rabia in the reception of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), when the girl was led away by a woman into a noisy crowd.
Bibi said she was too weak to give chase or shout. After being admitted to Pims for cancer treatment, she refused to eat and demanded the return of her daughter.
“I don’t want to live without my daughter. Please give me back my daughter. Otherwise I will die in this hospital,” she told AFP before her death.
“My Rabia, where is my princess Rabia? I can’t drink water, I can’t eat without her, I only want to see her,” she screamed.
She died 10 days after she was admitted.
Officials say infertility is often the driving force behind a worrying trend of baby theft in Pakistan, where married women across the social spectrum are under pressure to bear children.
“The general trend of kidnapping and abduction in the country is on the rise. There are more reports of newborn babies stolen from hospitals,” said Nazirul Hassan, deputy director of the National Police Bureau.
But he said police keep no official data of the crimes.
The Edhi Foundation estimates that about 40 newborn babies were stolen from hospitals last year, up from 30 in 2009, according to figures collated from parents’ reports at its centres nationwide.
AFP rang around hospitals in seven major cities, which reported a total of 16 cases of baby theft in 2010.
“In most cases, the thieves are women who are infertile and want to satisfy their husbands and family,” said Masood Safdar, spokesperson for the District Headquarters Hospital in Rawalpindi.
“They deceive them by saying they gave birth, but in fact they have stolen the baby from a hospital,” he added.
Naima Hassan, a UN stress counsellor, said criminal gangs are often involved in carrying out the kidnappings. “There are various motives, but the main one is infertility — women who steal babies to avoid a risk of divorce from the husband,” she concurred.
In another case, Rukhsana Parveen gave birth by caesarean section to her daughter Fatima in Rawalpindi a year ago, but woke from anaesthesia to find her newborn daughter missing from the bed.
“I went crazy,” said Parveen.
In a fortunate twist of fate, she was reunited with her daughter a year later when the woman who took Fatima brought her along when she tried to steal a baby boy from the same hospital.
Security guards closed the gates as soon as the newborn boy disappeared and the authorities tracked down the woman attempting to flee — recovering the baby boy and 14-month-old Fatima.
“The time when she was not with us was like a living hell. We prayed a lot to get her back and we thank God we have been reunited,” said Fatima’s father Ghulam Razik.
The hospital’s spokesperson Safdar said they had strengthened the security. “Baby stealing incidents happened in the past but now we have tightened up security,” he said.
Hospital administrators say, however, they are unable to completely secure their grounds. While they insist that mothers show identity cards and special passes before taking babies from hospital wards, the areas outside still put children at risk of criminal gangs.
Raja Shafique Sarwar, spokesperson for Holy Family Hospital in Karachi, said, “There are dozens of deliveries every week. What can we do if a baby is taken outside and then stolen from the mother?”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2011.