KARACHI: A Chinese proverb says that no matter how hard ones heart is, if s/he sees a toddler unknowingly moving towards a well, one will certainly save him from falling into it before the child ends life unknowingly.
This signifies the nature of mankind; emphatic and compassionate at heart, bereft of malice against fellow human beings. To find out when this proverb was said will be a futile job but what's still relevant is whether it is still believable or not. Pakistan, to our horror, has already proven this adage wrong.
Situated in Kharadar Karachi, Edhi Foundation Head Office receives a number of persons daily asking for orphaned, abandoned babies to adopt. These persons yearning for love of a child are then added to a list of 30,000 people who have already been waiting to adopt a baby.
Edhi Foundation has by far made adoption of 22,700 children possible since its establishment in 1951. In the last few years, the adoption service has seen a halt in its activity, therefore raising the number of people waiting and longing to get a child for adoption but, unluckily, in vain.
We have yet to ascertain what has made biological parents so cold-hearted, brutal, and savage that instead of leaving their unwanted newborns in 'Jhoolas' Edhi has installed at their centres, they have grown accustomed to killing their babies inhumanely moments after the birth, defying the maxim Chinese had proudly said in praise of human compassion.
"The other day, we found four dead babies abandoned in Karachi alone from different areas," said Anwar Kazmi, the spokesperson of Edhi Foundation and a veteran social activist with decades of humanitarian work experience. Kazmi has been a close aide to Abdul Sattar Edhi, the philanthropist and founder of Edhi Foundation and is privy to ample information vis-à-vis abandoned babies. As he sits in his office located in Kharadar, sporting a revolutionary, unkempt beard like his mentor Edhi, calmness and serenity visible on his face - which seems to be a result of his unsung, untiring service to mankind - he is all too forthcoming when telling stories that haunt his mind and have tarnished his view of humanity.
A baby born out of wedlock is one of the main reasons that make the parents abandon or even kill their baby, while shunning girls' births and poverty are others, according to Kazmi. Often crippled newborns are either killed or left at our 'jhoolas' because the parents, as they argue, can't afford to raise an 'abnormal' child. A single sight at the horrific data of dead babies found by Edhi Foundation convinces one beyond doubt that we still live in a highly patriarchal society where daughters are deprived of their very right to live. Close to 99 percent dead bodies recovered are of female babies, informed Anwar Kazmi.
"Babies who are born as a result of fornication are looked down upon in our society by our people, whom I ask a simple question, why can't the consent between a couple turn sex into marriage? After all, the paper work of marriage was not a norm well before Ayub Khan's dictatorship? And even if fornication is considered a sin, what a newborn has to do with it? Why the baby can't be accepted?" asks Kazmi. "I still remember an incident which happened some 20 years ago when a mother of a newborn left her baby on the stairs of a mosque located in Khamosh Colony, Karachi. The poor mother might have done this being struck by poverty and growing inflation in the hope that some believers, worshippers of God would take the child home and cater to his need. But when the prayer leader of the mosque was told of this, he ordered the men to stone the baby to death because it must have been a result of an extramarital affair or fornication. The worshippers did as told and later we were called to collect the baby's pieces. Such is the reality of the society we live in," recounts Kazmi woefully.
Majority of the dead babies Edhi Foundation finds are either strangled by hands or hanged till death. The latter method forces the tiny tongue of the baby out of the mouth. "How is that sight even bearable for the culprits - let alone making that happen by one's own hands - is incomprehensible to me."
Although the unchecked abortions have helped many a parent to get rid of unwanted babies, the data shows that parents are more inured to killing babies and prefer to do so to abortion and leaving the child at Edhi Centre.
In 2012 alone, a total of 781 dead bodies were found, whereas the number of abandoned children - alive - was only 192. The year 2013 saw some plunging of the numbers when 591 dead bodies were found whilst 138 alive newborns were recovered by Edhi Foundation.
Abandoning a child or brutally killing him is perhaps the most cost-effective method, in the jargon of neo-liberal economics, which also saves the culprits from getting into paper work or being sighted otherwise likely if they opt to give the child to a welfare trust.
On almost every centre, Edhi Foundation has installed boards signed by Bilquis Edhi imploring people to not kill the baby and let their child live by leaving it in Edhi 'Jhoola'. This imploring goes in vain as Edhi rescuers rush daily, having received a call or two, to pick dead bodies of newborns found in deserted areas where humanity is shamed every now and then.
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