With 345 Infanticides in 15 Months, Karachi Becoming a ‘Killing Field For Newborn Girls’

Zaitoun, who had moved to Karachi, from the rural northwest in 2011, had a telling-tale that she shared grimly with Aljazeera in 2014: Just days after she gave birth, Zaitoun said, her husband killed the child, their first, because she was a girl.

April 30, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — As Pakistan becomes more urbanized, Karachi’s population has grown exponentially. Most of the migrants who move from villages to the country’s largest city on the Arabian Sea in search of better economic opportunities end up living in densely packed, illegal housing settlements. The residents here straddle the poverty line, have limited access to education and are often uninformed about birth-control options. Increasingly, they are turning to infanticide — killing a child within a year of birth — aid groups say.

In South Asia, killing children is nothing new, and girls are particularly vulnerable. Parents do it to help feed their sons, who are more highly valued in Pakistani society just as the century-old trend in India according to studies. But the number of children killed has risen steadily over the last five years in Pakistan, welfare organizations in Karachi told Aljazeera in January 2014.

“The price of bread is rising, more immigrants are moving into Karachi, and job security is nonexistent in the country,” said an Edhi official, Anwar Kazmi. While the number of corpses the foundation found nationwide is startling, he added, it does not begin to convey the full scope of the problem; it does not include babies killed in rural areas, for instance, or those secretly buried by whoever killed them.

The Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s largest welfare agency, told Aljazeera the number of dead babies its ambulances pick up has increased by almost 20 percent each year since 2010.

Other organizations, such as the Chhipa Welfare Association and the Aman Foundation, reported similar increases, a trend they said then may intensify as the cost of living in Karachi continues to rise.

That was 4 years back.

From January 2017 to April 2018 (15 months) 345 newborn babies were found dumped in the garbage in Karachi only, and 99 percent of them were girls, The News reported.

“We have been dealing with such cases for years and there are a few such incidents which shook our souls as much. It left us wondering whether our society is heading back to primitive age,” Kazmi told The News.

Edhi Foundation found 355 such dead infants from the garbage dumps across the country in 2017; 99 percent of them were identified girls. And Karachi has topped in this notorious ranking with 180 cases in 2017. As many as 72 dead girls have been buried in the first four months of this year by Edhi Foundation alone in the metropolitan city. The given data is just tip of the iceberg as Edhi foundation maintains the data of those cities where it provides services.

Chhipa Welfare Foundation, another NGO, came across 93 cases in Karachi where newborn girls were killed; around 70 babies in 2017 and 23 this year.

“Though people abandon these innocent souls but as a welfare organization we cannot. We give them a proper burial and perform other rituals for these babies. After completing the hospital and police formalities, we bury them in our own graveyard. The burial and other rituals cost us around Rs 2,000 per child. I wonder how poor can a person be that he/she cannot afford Rs 2000 to give a proper burial to their child,” commented Shahid Mehmood spokesperson of Chhipa Welfare Organization to The News.

In many major cities of Pakistan, Edhi foundation installed ‘Jhoolas’ (baby cradles) so that the people should leave unwanted children there instead of killing them. The number of such sites is in hundreds across the country but this initiative received little success. One of the reasons for the lack of response to such ‘Jhoolas’ is wrath of religious leadership which believe this will promote illegitimacy. Although Edhi foundation claims they are getting positive response from people but their data is contradictory to this claim. According to Kazmi, the foundation received only 14 unwanted children in 2017, who were alive. Interestingly, 12 out of 14 were girls whereas the remaining two boys were physically unfit.

Just 18 babies were dropped off at Jhoola (baby cradle) sites in Karachi in 2013, while Edhi Foundation told Aljazeera it had buried more than 1,300 babies the year before (in 2012).

According to a police official at the Additional Inspector General (AIG) Karachi office, Neelum Colony Karachi located near Clifton is one of the slum area of the metropolitan city. Majority of the inhabitant of this colony are living below the poverty line and are illiterate. Incidents of infanticide are occurring in those areas where people have no access to even basic necessities, and Neelum Colony is one such area, said an official in the AIG Karachi office. Aljazeera’s 2014 report pointed out Haryana Colony in the city as another.

Zaitoun, who had moved to Karachi, from the rural northwest in 2011, had a telling-tale that she shared grimly with Aljazeera in 2014:

Just days after she gave birth, Zaitoun said, her husband killed the child, their first, because she was a girl.

The infant’s fate wasn’t a surprise to Zaitoun, 26 (then), who had moved to Karachi from the rural northwest three years ago. Zaitoun’s (who asked that her last name not be used) marriage was arranged, she says, and her husband found her a job working as a nanny in one of Karachi’s wealthy neighborhoods.

When Zaitoun realized she was pregnant, she didn’t speak of it to her husband, knowing money was tight and that having a baby would likely mean she would lose her job. Her in-laws, whom Zaitoun did tell of her pregnancy, advised her to pray that it wouldn’t be a girl. Two days after her daughter was born, Zaitoun says, she woke up to find the baby gone. That afternoon, when her husband returned home for lunch, she asked him what had happened. “I took care of it,” he said.

A few days later, she said she saw an ambulance crew pick up a tiny corpse from a trash dump outside her apartment building. In the six months she had been living in Haryana Colony, a squatters’ settlement where some of Karachi’s poorest families live, Zaitoun saw three other dead babies removed the same way, she said.

Three streets down from Zaitoun’s apartment, 17-year-old daughter, Asma (name changed) shared her story. She had given birth to a child out of wedlock a year ago then. A few minutes after the birth, her mother Maryam suffocated the baby with a pillow, the two acknowledged. They then waited 10 minutes to be sure the baby was really dead. That night, Maryam doused the corpse in kerosene and left it on a trash heap that was already ablaze, while Asma waited at home.

Asma and Maryam did not previously tell anyone about the birth, and Maryam said she felt no regret, reasoning that she saved not only her daughter but also her grandchild from a life of misery and pain. In December 2013, Asma got married in an arranged marriage that was planned three years ago. Her husband was not the child’s father. She doesn’t intend to tell him about her pregnancy, and she hopes he never learns the truth.

Though police term poverty and illiteracy as root cause of infanticide but Edhi foundation’s office bearer has different views about it. According to Mr. Kazmi, in majority of cases infanticide is occurring due to out of wedlock births. Normally, people kill girls if they are born out of wedlock as this is consider a stigma. However if the baby is a boy the family try to protect him. “We have seen so many horrible incidents. One such incident which still I remember despite passage of more than a decade is the stoning of a new born baby who was found outside mosque”, says Mr. Kazmi.

“A few people found a baby at the door step of a mosque in Karachi and they handed the baby over to the prayer leader. The cleric decried that this is an illegitimate baby therefore he should be stoned. Resultantly, the baby was stoned to death. I tried to register a case against the cleric but nothing happened”, narrated Kazmi.

The ratio of infanticide is high in the South Asian region. Particularly, the trend of killing girls is rising. The South Asia is well known for having more preference for sons than daughters. According to a study carried out by Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford, over the past two decades, son preference has become more strongly associated with the practice of continuing to bear children until couples have achieved their desired number of sons and daughters in Pakistan.

The study suggests that many families in Pakistan are increasingly making reproductive decisions based on the number of sons they have. “This reproductive trend affects Pakistan’s ability to make its desired transition to lower birth rates and meet other developmental targets. Pakistan can make progress toward these goals by improving access to reproductive health care services and addressing the root causes of son preference, including the inequitable gender norms that uphold the perception that sons are more valuable than daughters”, suggests the study.

In Pakistan, abortion is legal only in very limited circumstances. According to Guttmacher Institute, a global nonprofit that studies reproductive health, almost 4.2 million women experienced unintended pregnancies. Out of these unintended pregnancies, 34 percent women gave unplanned birth whereas 54 percent ended up in abortion. According to this data, approximately 696,000 Pakistani women were treated in public- and private-sector facilities for abortion complications, which translates to a rate of 15 per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

Child abandonment and infanticide both are criminal offenses and punishable crimes in Pakistan. According to Pakistan Penal Code Section 328, “Whoever being the father or mother of a child under the age of twelve years, or having the care of such child, shall expose or leave such child in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning such child, shall be punished with imprisonment’ of either description for- a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both”.

Similarly, under section 329 of PPC, “Whoever, by secretly burying or otherwise disposing of the dead body of a child whether such child dies before or after or during its birth, intentionally conceals or endeavors to conceal the birth shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.

“Normally, nobody reports such cases in police station and during last one year the Karachi Police registered only one case of infanticide. The police can properly investigate the causes of such cases whether they are illegitimate children or there are any other reasons only if the people register complaints. The police can then find the areas where such cases are reported and ultimately unearth the reason behind such offense. For this purpose, the role of welfare organizations as well as common citizen is very important”, says the police official from AIG office.

“Poverty cannot be the only reason for infanticide or child abandonment. If a person has eight children then another one won’t be a burden on him. We need to look into other aspects as well. Illegitimacy can be another major cause of child abandonment but unfortunately very little work has been done on this issue because of the sensitivity of the issue”, believes Tahera Hasan, director of Imkaan Welfare organization.

According to Miss Tahera, the child abandonment cases to organizations are reducing. The primary reason for the same is probably the increase in child trafficking where children are being sold for money.

Talking about infanticide, Miss Tahera says we need to investigate the cause of death of abandoned children. The medical reports of these dead children can prove whether they have been strangled to death or they die due to other reasons. I am sure the police or the welfare organization must have record of each abandoned child and if the cause of death is unnatural then it is very alarming.

“We need to focus on family planning and there is a need of a proper awareness campaign to reduce misconception about family planning in the masses. This is a way of controlling unwanted pregnancies and ultimately unwanted children too”, commented Miss Tahera.

Kazmi and Chhipa said (in 2014) that until the plight of these newborns is highlighted by local media outlets and taken seriously by the police, the situation isn’t likely to change. However, Karachi’s police force, often accused of being poorly trained, corrupt and lacking political will, is unlikely to spend its limited resources on finding the killers of infants.

Nisar Ahmed, the police officer in charge of investigating crime in the Karachi West district, where Haryana Colony is located, told Aljazeera that in the past three years (2010-2013), the city’s police force had never investigated anyone for infanticide. No one, he said, had ever reported such a crime.

“I have never heard of someone coming into the station and saying that they know someone who killed a ‘harami’ child,” he said. Even if someone was arrested, he or she would likely slip through the cracks of the legal system. Ahmed said he couldn’t imagine someone going to trial for the crime.

Things will change though with renewed thrust for rule of law and protection of fundamental rights as all sorts of terrorism and destabilization activities in the city and the country ebb and the economy picks up, many Karachiites told DesPardes/PKonweb.

(Report based on articles which originally appeared in Aljazeera and The News Intl.)

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