Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Pakistan: Why do parents send their children to orphanages?

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 18 December 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Why do parents send their children to orphanages?, 18 December 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/494b62d9a.html [accessed 29 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KARACHI, 18 December 2008 (IRIN) - "I'm really hurt by the way the media pried into my private life and show-cased it to the public," said Rukhsana Bibi. Last month, Bibi, a mother of four, handed over her youngest daughter, Wardah, aged four, to the Edhi Foundation, a local orphanage in Pakistan.

She was not alone. Her sister-in-law gave up three of her five children and another woman from their neighbourhood handed over four. In all, eight children were dropped off by three mothers in just a day, making national media headlines.

"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.

Social breakdown?

"This is not a true reflection of the country's economic woes; it's more about media sensationalism," said S. Akbar Zaidi, also an economist, adding, however: "This is not to say the situation is not alarming, but I wouldn't say it is the worst time in the country's economy." He said he hoped things would improve by March-April as falling fuel and food prices made their mark.

Gazdar linked the episode to social breakdown. "From what I could tell, the children taken to the Edhi Foundation were not the poorest I have come across in Karachi, let alone Pakistan."

"From studies of extreme economic trauma, for example famine studies, [it has been discovered that] people hold on till the very end to their families. The depressing science of disaster studies tells us a great deal about human behaviour under conditions of stress. People initially sacrifice consumption in a bid to conserve assets, but hold the family together till the very end. These [three women] apparently had assets such as TVs and fridges but were letting their children go," said Gazdar.

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