PLIGHT OF PAKISTAN'S ABANDONED CHILDREN
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The story about the worsening economy in Pakistan can be seen in the plight of children at the Edhi Welfare Center in Karachi – it has meant more children being dropped off.
This week, the scale of the suffering drew media attention after three mothers, members of an extended family, abandoned eight children at once.
Bilquis Edhi, wife of the center’s founder, 80-year-old, Abdul Sattar Edhi, told journalists that it was unprecedented that eight children with living parents were brought to them.
"The three women came together to my center," she said. "They asked me to please take their children; they could no longer feed them."
"The mothers were sobbing as they tried to leave the children and the children were crying clinging to their mothers," Edhi said. "It was heart wrenching to watch."
One of the little boys abandoned at a welfare center in Karachi cries while answering questions from journalists.
All of the children seemed scared and unaware of why their mothers were leaving them at the welfare center.
Beaten by husbands
The Edhi Foundation, based in Karachi, is the largest non-profit humanitarian organization in Pakistan. It provides 24-hour emergency assistance, shelter, schools and medical care for Pakistan’s destitute. Established in 1951, the foundation operates more than 300 social welfare centers across the country and its founder has been likened to Mother Teresa.
"When the three mothers went back home, they were beaten by their husbands for abandoning their kids," Edhi said in a telephone interview from Karachi. "They came back to the shelter [today] with bruises all over. I gave them 100,000 rupees each [approximately $1,200] and told them to take their kids back home."
Bilquis Edhi with the eight children left at the Edhi Welfare Center in Karachi on Tuesday.
The mothers took the money and their children and went home. But Edhi pointed out that is really only a temporary solution. "Their husbands don’t work," she said. "And very soon, again, they will have no money to feed their children."
Edhi added that this was an alarming sign of the breakdown of the family unit as the high prices for food and soaring unemployment forces parents to abandon their kids.
Almost half of Pakistan’s 165 million people live directly below or just at the poverty line. Since March, food prices have soared by more than 34 percent, which has eroded the buying power of the family.
"There has been an enormous increase in the price of wheat from $200 to $500 a ton which then led to the increase in the price of food," said Dr. Salam Shah, a former Pakistan finance minister. "The inflation rate rose to 25 percent, and jobs were lost at an alarming rate, all of which has contributed to the increase in poverty in the country," he said.
"There are 12 members of our extended family," Azam Khan, the children’s grandfather, told a local TV channel. "Only two have jobs and their combined income isn’t enough to feed eight children," he said.
Faiza, 12, told journalists at the welfare center on Tuesday, "We can't live here and want to go back to our parents." They were reunited on Wednesday.
One of many stories
The Pakistani media gave prominent coverage to the abandoned children at the Edhi charity home and their individual story seems to have shocked many Pakistanis and stirred emotions around the country.
In response to huge outcry, the local government in the province of Sindh, where the families reside, have offered jobs to the parents and guaranteed them enough income to take care of the children.
So there was a somewhat happy ending to this story, but Edhi warned that these children were just one of many sad stories.
"These children are just one case," warned Edhi, the charity founder’s wife and a nurse by profession. "Every day there are three to four children left by their parents or unknown people at our centers," she said.
The Edhis have set up a program where mothers can leave unwanted newborn babies, anonymously, in a basket outside any one of their centers. They have rescued thousands of children – mostly girls who are considered to be a burden on poor families – and placed them in adoptive homes or raised them in their orphanages.
"We take care of thousands of abandoned children; they all need our help," she said.