Abandoned babies given away on Pakistani TV programme

 

Orla Guerin reports on the controversial TV show which has awarded babies to two childless couples

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Two baby girls who were abandoned in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi have been allocated new parents during a live television broadcast, the BBC's Orla Guerin reports.

At just over a month old Fatima has already lived through a lot.

Her life began, and could have ended, on a rubbish dump in the sprawling megacity of Karachi. Instead, Fatima was rescued by a charity and placed in the loving care of a childless couple.

It looks like a happy ending but it came about in the full glare of television cameras. The sleeping infant was one of two abandoned girls handed over during live broadcasts of "Amaan Ramzan", a blend of Islam and entertainment, which runs during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Ratings concern

The dapper host Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain is already famous for giving away cars, motorbikes and household electronics.

Start Quote

Riaz

It felt like... an angel came. She means more to me than my own soul”

End Quote Riaz Adoptive father

Now the controversial showman has added babies to the list, calling it "a noble cause". He insists he is saving abandoned infants, not using them to boost his ratings.

"We were already top of the ratings before we gave away a baby," said Dr Aamir, who describes himself as "truly a legend" on his website.

"These children are not a part of garbage, are not a part of trash, so we took these children from the garbage, from the trash, and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents."

His show is broadcast from a packed studio, where the audience sits beneath glittering lanterns and a huge chandelier, and fish swim under glass panels in the floor. This is where the sleeping baby Fatima was handed over to her adoptive parents, who embraced her and wept.

Her new father Riaz, a bearded civil engineer, told us Fatima was the answer to his mother's prayers. She died the day before the broadcast.

He and his wife Tanzeem waited 14 long years for a child. He refused to divorce her, as many advised, when she could not produce a child.

"When the baby came into my arms on the show," he said, "it felt like another soul had entered my body, like an angel came. She has brought us so much peace. She means more to me than my own soul."

As he spoke, his wife tenderly cradled Fatima in her lap. "I adopted her," said Tanzeem, who wore a black chador, a full-body robe. "But it doesn't feel like an adoption. It feels as if she is my own child, as if I gave birth to her. She is a gift from God."

The civil engineer Riaz and his wife Tanzeem hold their newly-adopted child on the TV show. The civil engineer Riaz and his wife Tanzeem hold their newly-adopted child
Two women clad in chadors holding babies Tanzeem Ud Din and another woman, Soraya Bilquis, savour motherhood
Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain Pakistani TV show host Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain gives away cars and electrical goods on his TV shows
Baby's face close up of Fatima, adopted daughter Fatima was left to die on a rubbish dump in Karachi
TV show set in Pakistan where a baby girl was given adoptive parents Fatima was handed over to her adoptive parents on the set of a TV show

Seated alongside her was another chador-clad woman now savouring motherhood - Soraya Bilquis. She and her husband waited even longer - 17 years - before getting a child of their own.

Start Quote

Child welfare worker for Sindh government

It's an insult to the baby and the parents. It should have been done quietly”

End Quote Seema Jamali Sindh province child welfare

"My life is complete now because of her," she said, gazing down at baby Sayeda Zeinab. "I can't describe how happy I am because someone will grow up and call me mother. She is the light of my home."

Both couples said they saw nothing wrong with being given their daughters on live TV. Tanzeem said she hoped it would encourage others to adopt.

But child welfare advocates fear that other TV shows will copy the baby giveaway. They also worry that the lack of confidentiality could expose the children and their families to teasing and stigma in the future.

"The baby was given away the same way as a gift," said Seema Jamali, assistant director of child welfare for the Sindh provincial government.

"Though it was good to find parents for her, the baby was given like a car, laptop, or motorcycle. It's an insult to the baby and the parents. It should have been done quietly."

It was far from quiet, but it was quick. Both couples were vetted by a private charity, the Chhipa Welfare Association, in less than two weeks. That's a typical time frame here. Checks were carried out on their incomes, medical records, and homes, and there were investigations with the police, and in their communities.

'More transparent'

But the babies were handed over in a legal vacuum, with no regulation by the state. Experts say that's how most children are given new homes here. Adoption does not exist under Islamic law, but couples can apply to the courts to become legal guardians of unwanted babies. Few do.

It's time for a proper legal framework, according to Sharjeel Memon, information minister for Sindh. "We want to make this process more transparent," he told us, "and there must be some legislation that people should go through."

But here in Pakistan there has been no public outcry about the fact that babies were given away on a TV show. Many are glad that they have a new start in life.

Their stories could have ended very differently. More than 300 dead babies are found every year in Karachi alone by Pakistan's largest welfare organisation, the Edhi Foundation. In a 10-day period in July they found 23 tiny bodies. Some had been suffocated.

At their spotless and welcoming home, Fatima's parents keep watch over their precious gift. They take turns to kiss her forehead and arrange her blanket.

"I have hardly had more than two hours' sleep a night since she came," said Riaz, smiling broadly. "We hope she will grow up to be a religious scholar, or maybe an engineer like me." As he spoke Fatima yawned, stirred, and clenched a little fist.

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 62.

    a baby dumped on a rubbish tip!
    tells you all we need to know about how grim people are.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 61.

    This has to be a good thing even though it is glitzed up in prime time TV. Maybe it will give adoption of baby GIRLS a high profile in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. How many of the 23 tiny bodies found over 10 days in Karachi were boys? That is what stinks, not this TV show.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 60.

    Why would anyone want to win a baby? Best avoid the things......

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 59.

    I agree this is a very positive move for orphaned children. However, I disagree with it being televised unless there is a motive to find more adoptive parents?

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 58.

    When it comes to children's welfare, perhaps we should put our own house in order before pontificating on another country's culture & practice. Today we witness yet another couple sentenced for the murder of their child and after every case, we in the UK wring our hands & those responsible for policy promise to take steps to prevent it "ever happening again". And again we fail.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 57.

    "We were already top of the ratings before we gave away a baby," said Dr Aamir, who describes himself as "truly a legend".....we took these children from the garbage, from the trash, and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents."
    --------------

    How dare he. I hope the circuss ends here for them, "needy parents" and all.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 56.

    so sorry but some of the comments are rreally dumb. You simply cant apply any action to your own culture. This is a different country so you need to do some homework first. Its very uncommon to adopt babies in Pakistan, this means the show is actually doing a good thing here and promoting this option. Consider rthinking outside of your box sometimes.. the world doesnt end at Clapham Junction.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 55.

    BBC. Why does your headline read "Abandoned babies given away on Pakistani TV programme"

    1. They weren't "given away" like some Buy-One-Get-One-Free offer, they met their pre-vetted adoptive families.

    2. Why the emphasis on Pakistani? Does that need to be in the headline, trying to make some point?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 54.

    That child welfare official should be ashamed of her comments. If her department was doing what it name suggests, there would be no need for a TV adoption; and women would go to the department instead of the rubbish dump.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 53.

    Welcome to "Ramadanababygiveaway" starring Alan Partridge. Ahaaaaaa!

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 52.

    Be far better to facilitate selective abortion, so they keep babies they want, not discard some. Especially as it would mean less girls in the world, reducing future breeding potential.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 51.

    Sensationalist headlines everywhere on this one. It makes it sound like Pakistan's "It's a Knockout" winners were awarded a baby unknowingly, when in actual fact loving, childless couples were located, vetted and offered a child to care for.

    How this is any different to renovating the home of a family who have fallen on hard times live to the nation (BBC's DIY SOS) I do not know.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 50.

    We have tripe like I'm a Celebrity....who are we to criticise?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 49.

    Ola is a good journalist, who reports from trouble spots; this is good news, never mind the morality of it; instead of the jihadists taking over the news screens, a positive effect, never mind the means, the end result is good.When we in Britain are facing the most challenging times by the scourge that is government, at least there are parts of the world where we can get positive news.

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 47.

    40.Frank
    "Better to give them away on TV than leaving them where they found them!"

    I have no idea why you were down voted for that comment, or who would have thought is was in some way negative.

    You are absolutely correct - it is far, far "Better to give them away on TV than leaving them where they found them!"

    Who could argue?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 46.

    Dr Hussain appears to be a noble conduit for gifting abandoned babies to childless couples. In Pak there are no adoption laws and that's better for if they were there, corruption will prevail and it will become a big money-spinner in no time. It is always better that little Olivers recklessly abandoned by the biological mother enter a good home and loving care by parents albeit adoptive.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 45.

    Sounds a bit tacky but hopefully the programme might help improve adoption and child welfare services in Pakistan. If the information in this report is correct then that can only be a good thing. Hopefully we won't get a UK version presented by some D-lister. Nick Knowles has already been mentioned, Matthew Kelly or Su Pollard could be other options.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 44.

    My initial reaction was revulsion but as I thought about it I cannot think of a better way to highlight the problems of child abandonment especially of daughters.

    One of the few great things about television is its ability to unite a nation in a single moment. Hopefully this will force a national debate in the country

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    Has Nick Knowles been onto his Agent yet?

    It's nice to see these girls being valued in Pakistan. I hope they are happy with their adoptive parents.

 

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