According to the constitution, abortion is illegal in Pakistan. Section 388 of the Pakistan Penal Code states that:
“Whoever causes a woman with child whose organs have not been formed, to miscarry, if such miscarriage is not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman or providing necessary treatment to her, is said to cause ‘Isqat-i-Haml’ is liable to a punishment of three years imprisonment if the abortion is performed by the woman’s consent otherwise a maximum of ten years.”
Tragedies in which women find their infants killed just after a day or two of their birth because either the husbands or the families don’t want girls playing in their veranda are testimonies of this heart wrenching catastrophe which completely describes the situation in Pakistan. It is stated by the Aid Groups that hardly any firm stands or actions have been taken to prevent it and refrain the people from femicide and female infanticide.
This devastating phenomenon urged videographers to produce a documentary namely, “Discarded Daughters” in year 2016, produced by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. This factual film explains the reality of this violence. How distressing it is to know that a baby girl won’t be able to celebrate her first birthday and see her parents getting happier watching her face. This is so deteriorating and hurting to see a woman you’re acquainted with made to abort the child conceived in her womb, forcibly.
Circa 3.1 million girls are missing in Pakistan, according to one record from the end of 20th century. The Edhi Foundation stated that the number of infanticides, mostly girls, is on hike in Pakistan. In the year of 2008, approximately 890 newborns were killed, more than 990 in 2009 and about 1210 in 2010. A recent study revealed that an estimated 2.25 million abortions were conducted in Pakistan in 2012. The rate counts bigger cities only. In 2012, there were circa nine million pregnancies in Pakistan, of which more than 4 million were unintended. Of these unintended pregnancies, 54 per cent resulted in induced abortions and 34 per cent in unplanned births.
There are three types of infanticide. The one where the unborn child doesn’t have to see the outer world in order to save the mother’s life. The other one, where a mother is pressurized to miscarry the child. Last but not the least, the one where a woman, with her consent, aborts her child deliberately. Killing an innocent life, in no way, is good. If the life of the mother is threatened and has to be saved, it is the mother that will be saved, as she represents life in the full sense.
Until 1990, abortion in Pakistan was regulated by century-old provisions of the Penal Code of 1860 which had been developed for India by the British colonial government. Under this Code, abortion was a crime unless performed in good faith in order to save the pregnant woman’s life. In year 2011, the United Nations found for example, that there are 130 boys to 100 girls in parts of Asia, especially in countries with overpopulation such as China and India.
Once Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Plan India, a nonprofit for children said that, ”girls are seen as assets, as a burden and seen as a property which belongs to someone else. Spending on a girl’s education is considered as the waste of money”. I think, we should organise campaigns and do door-to-door surveys to change people’s perspectives regarding this normative ritual which is good in no way. And to make them realise that this practice of theirs is eventually to be changed into a fiasco. According to the Edhi Foundation, it was estimated that more than a thousand infants were killed or left to die in year 2010. It is estimated that globally about 20 million unsafe abortions take place each year, which is one in ten pregnancies. The tragic truth is that most of these figures related to Pakistan are gathered from the main cities while the number of killings from the rural areas remains undiscovered.
The female infanticides are on rise and poverty is one reason behind that. It angers me that even today the world is missing up to 200 million girls due to gender selective miscarriages. The one reason behind these abortions is that, many women are not allowed to work independently, hence become burdens for fathers and the family. Ultimately, the family comes to a decision of not having more females and that is how this cataclysm takes birth. An estimated 890,000 induced abortions occur annually, which means that 1 out of 6 pregnancies is terminated by induction of abortion mostly in an unsafe manner.
According to the law, the punishment of abandoning an infant is seven years in jail, and anyone found guilty of secretly burying a child can be sent to prison for two years. A murder is punished with life imprisonment. However, these crimes go undiscovered most often and people are rarely prosecuted and put behind the bars due to a poorly trained police force. Our religion Islam teaches us that giving birth to a daughter means to have opened the doors of Jannah. The life of our role model, Hazrat Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shows us to respect women and teaches us tolerance.
Killing an innocent baby is the most horrifying crime anyone can ever commit – it is a mortal sin. Do not ever let a female child become a burden on you; provide her the best of all. Nurture her with a good upbringing so that one day, she could make you proud. Never let your daughters feel inferior, subservient or any lesser than your sons. We want a buffalo to give birth to a female buffalo, we want a female doctor for our wives to be checked up but we are still clung to this “No more girls” cliché. It is actually the time we start to remove all the myths from our lives and be thankful for what we have been blessed with. Family planning counselling should be made a routine part of post-abortive care at both public and private sector facilities. In remote areas services should be delivered at the doorstep by lady health workers (LHWs) or community midwives. Even the Nation Health Services department accepted the fact that population growth rate is the basic problem.
The babies are often just days old when they’re thrown away or dumped in garbage heaps. Edhi Foundation finds these innocent infants by itself and does their upbringing. Often in Karachi’s sprawling garbage dumps, these babies are found. Some are dead while some survive. The government of Pakistan has been working on education but still 55 million girls remain uneducated and illiterate, according to the UN. Unwanted pregnancies, poverty, lack of availability and accessibility to contraception and contraceptive failure are some of the factors that account for the rise in the number of women seeking termination of pregnancies in unsafe conditions. In the cities like Karachi, the children are put in linen pouches – each the size of a loaf of bread and abandoned. I fear that unless we protect and prioritise women’s rights, there will continue to be families across Pakistan and the world who will mourn the birth of a girl.