A defining characteristic of a sustainable city is that it is financially prosperous and the benefits of its financial growth are divided among the residents. A sustainable city is also socially at peace. However, the work done by a Karachi-based not-for-profit organisation, Imkaan, reveals an alarming trend that relates to important social and financial aspects of the urban profile of Karachi, and also the country as a whole; the issue of infanticide and the abandoning of minors.
Imkaan’s programme researches the causes of infanticide and child abandonment by working with the community and its local stakeholders. It then works with potential adoptive parents in screening and preparing permanent homes for the children who need them. An additional work area relates to working with children in disaster situations and providing immediate and tangible assistance. According to Imkaan Welfare Organisation director Tahera Hasan, their surveys indicate that the main causes of abandonment range from poverty to illegitimacy. In many cases people have too many children and are unable to provide for them. And the trends are alarming. In 2008, the discarded bodies of 890 infants were recovered, the numbers increased to 999 in 2009, in 2010 they spiked to 1,210, and in 2011, 70 bodies of dead infants were found in Karachi alone. From January to September of 2013, 125 abandoned children were found in Karachi. Another related and extremely alarming development that Hasan points to is the documented rise in child trafficking, especially in urban centres.
To institutionalise its work, Imkaan has established Imkaan Ghar; a shelter for the abandoned. The aim is to take care of abandoned babies and help them find families. The children that are not adopted are provided with education, healthcare and a caring and nurturing environment. In order to ensure that these children are adopted into loving homes, an extensive screening process has been prepared for assessing potential parents. The parents are also guided through every aspect of adoption, including legal matters.
At a preventive level, to assist in reducing the occurrences of child infanticide and abandonment, a recently taken initiative is the establishment of Sehat Ghar. Under this programme, Imkaan provides prenatal and post-natal care to expectant mothers, caters to neonatal care of newborn babies and educates women; hence enabling them to make informed decisions about their lives, health, and families during pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. The first such clinic has been established in Machar Colony, home to approximately 700,000 people. According to the surveys conducted, each family residing there is spending more than Rs24,000 annually on health care. The clinic aims to provide medical support either free of charge or at a low fee to the residents of Machar Colony and help reduce their financial burden.
An encouraging development has been some movement achieved at the policy and legal front and Imkaan, along with the Edhi Trust, has been at the forefront of advocating this cause. The effort was targeted at ensuring that every child born in Pakistan gets the right to be registered as a citizen and be given a B-form, irrespective of his parentage being known or not. Now registration of children that are at orphanages with no known parentage will be registered by the National Database and Registration Authority as per the new policy that has been submitted in the Supreme Court.
As Hasan rightly points out, poverty will not end soon, nor will the system provide health and education for children, and neither will there be social acceptance of single parents. We are even struggling to give identity to our citizens because they might have unknown parentage.
Still, a start needs to be made. Much can happen if the dividends of urban growth are shared by all and the necessary social and financial safeguards are in place to protect the more vulnerable communities.
The abhorrent practices of infanticide and child abandonment, which cannot be in any way be pardoned, are the consequence and indicator of the existing social and financial injustice within our society.
The writer is an urban planner and runs a non-profit organisation focusing on urban sustainability issues
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th,2014.