Every month, at least one or two babies rescued from garbage dumps or the Edhi Centre’s cradles arrive at its head office near Sarrafa Bazaar in Boulton Market. But while they may have been abandoned by their biological parents, plenty of other couples are lining up to give them a home. In fact, demand far outstrips supply.
The Edhi Centre, which has earned a reputation of being the most reliable philanthropic organisation in the country, has thousands of pending adoption applications, some of which have come from abroad. Bilquis Bano Edhi, who is in charge of the adoption process, puts the number of such forms in the range of 6,000 to 7,000.
She told The Express Tribune that since they set up the centre in 1951, about 19,600 babies have been given to foster parents. But though more and more people are abandoning their babies, there are still not enough to meet adoption demands. “Most of them do not even survive the stage where they can be given for adoption as they are premature,” Bilquis Edhi pointed out.
About 80% of these unwanted babies are girls because of the persistent perception in Pakistani society that this sex is a burden. Thus, the adoption form clearly states that if you want a baby boy, you will have to wait longer.
The process for adoption takes place through the Edhi’s head office in Karachi and can take from two to twelve months. “You have to be really careful who you hand over a child to as there are a lot of fakers,” said Edhi. Potential foster parents are first sifted out and then a team from the organisation visits their house.
The criteria for the selection of the parents is extremely stringent and inflexible. “I won’t give babies to a couple in which the husband is too dominating, where I see that the mother is getting no respect or where the parents are too poor to afford the cost of upbringing,” she said.
Over the years, Edhi has become pundit of the adoption process. There are couples who plead for a baby and want to present the child to their families as their own. Some women who feign pregnancy also plead for a newborn baby so that they can tell their husbands and their families that they have given birth to that child. “I never give babies to such people because when the truth is unveiled, it can devastate the entire family, including the child,” she said.
Babies are only given to couples who are well-off and happily married. But even then, some bitter experiences with these types have taught Bano Edhi to be extra cautious. About two years ago, a doctor and her husband came to adopt a baby and were immediately given a baby girl as their profile was stronger than that of the other applicants. But later it was discovered that the doctor had sold the baby. “I have become extremely careful since then,” said Bano Edhi.
There are 13 conditions for adopting a child. The first one is that the decision of the chairman, Bilquis Edhi, cannot be challenged. The details of the biological parents and adoptive parents are kept extremely secret. The law in Pakistan does not allow adoption - only ‘kifala’ is permitted in which monetary and emotional care can be given to the child, but not obligations or rights. An abandoned baby has no legal identity and the state does not register such a child as a citizen. (A petition has been filed recently to challenge this).
Adopting through Edhi is therefore ‘closed adoption’ (confidential or secret adoption), whereby the record of the biological parent is kept confidential and the child is given the name of the adoptive parent. Most of the abandoned babies are found with slips which mention the name and the religion of the baby.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2011.