Thursday, December 18, 2008

Giving up children to orphanages creates media row in Pakistan

In just one day, three mothers gave up their eight children to an orphanage in Pakistan. When the drop offs occurred last month, it created national headlines shedding light to the worst economic conditions the country has faced in recent memory.

IRIN gave some background on the story and on one of the mothers that was caught up in the media frenzy.

“This is not the first time that people have come to us and dropped off their children citing poverty as the reason for their inability to bring them up,” said Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, 85.

“But this time the media showed the stark and ugly face of poverty, which created a ripple in our society and moved the people out of their indifference,” he said.

The Edhi Foundation's headquarters takes in about 300 abandoned babies each year and some 50,000 children at any given moment depend on the foundation for their survival, according to a recent report by the Christian Science Monitor.

According to Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based economist, an estimated 8.5 million of the country’s 170 million people have been added in the past year to those already living below the poverty line (earning less than two dollars a day).

About 29 percent of the population were living below this level in 2006-07, but this figure may have gone up by 5 percent in 2008-09, he said.

Following extensive media coverage, all three women decided to return to the orphanage and collect their children.

Family’s dire circumstances

“I don’t know what became of me. I made a mistake and I am truly ashamed, but the way the media played up the story has taken away what little respect we enjoyed,” said Bibi. “I lied to my husband and told him I had sent her to a `madrasa’ (religious school) where she would get a good education and three square meals.”

Her husband, Khan Bahadur, an ex-army man, suffers from a muscular disorder and is bed-ridden. “His condition started deteriorating four years ago and now he is just like a child and needs my help with everything,” Bibi said.

Taking care of her children and an ailing husband is taking its toll. “Not only am I in a lot of debt, I have no way out of it.” She used to stitch clothes and earn a little money, but she no longer has time.

People and organisations reached out to the women and doled out alms, but hardly a day later four more children were dumped at the Edhi Foundation - by a father from Tharparkar, one of the most under-developed districts of Sindh Province.

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