Children born outside of marriage are shunned in the conservative Muslim nation of Pakistan where the Associated Foreign Press noted Monday that infanticide -- or the killing of newborns -- is on the rise. According to estimate by the Edhi Foundation, more than 1,000 infants -- most of them girls -- were murdered or purposefully left to die in Pakistan last year.
The Edhi Foundation is working to reverse the grim trend but reports finding 40 dead babies left in garbage dumps and sewers in Pakistan's biggest cities in December alone.
Edhi Foundation manager in Karachi, Anwar Kazmi, told the AFP of gruesome discoveries by volunteers, including the burnt body of a six-day-old infant who had been strangled. Additionally, Kazmi said another child was found on the steps of a local mosque after having been stoned to death on the orders of an extremist imam.
"Do not murder, lay them here," reads a sign hanging outside the charity's Karachi base where it has left cradles in the hope that parents will abandon their unwanted children there, instead of leaving them to die.
"People leave these children mostly because they think they are illegitimate, but they are as innocent and loveable as all human beings," says the charity's founder, well-known humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi.
Most children found are less than a week old.
The charity collects the bodies of hundreds of dead infants and buries them in tiny unnamed graves. "We acquired this land to bury children after another plot was filled with hundreds of bodies," Khair Mohammad, a 65-year-old graveyard watchman said.
Kazmi estimates that nine out of every ten babies found are female. "The number of infanticides of girls has substantially increased," Kazmi says, a rise attributed to increased poverty across the country. Many Pakistanis see women as larger economic burdens than men as they are not permitted to work and are considered to be the financial responsibility of their fathers and husbands.
Fortunately some newborns are spared from the horrific practice. According to the Edhi Foundation, up to 200 babies are left in its 400 cradles across the country each year. These children are then put up for adoption to meet the demand of the thousands of requests the organization receives from childless couples.
Pakistani law holds that anyone found to have abandoned a child may be jailed for seven years and anyone who secretly buries a child may be imprisoned for two years. Murder is punishable with life imprisonment, but infanticide crimes are rarely prosecuted and many police stations do not even acknowledge the cases, AFP reports.