There cannot be a bigger shock for parents of a newborn than losing it to an abductor or someone dealing in infants’ sale to issueless people. Such abductions take place all over the world but the incidence is quite high in the South Asian region. If one looks at hospital and police records, one finds that a large number of people have become victims of this heinous crime in Pakistan. Their grief is immeasurable.
Different government hospitals in Punjab and Lahore, in particular, have been notorious for the high incidence of newborns’ abduction. In many cases, the newborns were stolen and taken away from the hospital and in others the abduction attempts were foiled or the abductors had to flee after leaving the newborns behind.
The hospital managements spring into action whenever there are cases of newborns’ abduction and tighten surveillance but such measures are cosmetic and short-lived. With the passage of time, things return to normal and the suspicious people start roaming around the wards, labour rooms and nurseries in these hospitals.
Taking note of the ever-increasing number of these abductions, Punjab Health department has asked the teaching hospitals, medical colleges, medical superintendents (MS) of hospitals, district and tehsil headquarter hospitals and executive district officers (EDOs) to check kidnappings of newborns at public hospitals.
Punjab Health Secretary Jawad Rafique Malik went to the extent of issuing warnings to the medical superintendents. He announced that in the event of an abduction of a newborn from a public hospital, the concerned MS would be held responsible.
As per the recently issued guidelines, labour rooms and nurseries will become no-go areas for unconcerned people, new CCTVs will be installed where there are none, the dysfunctional CCTV cameras will be repaired and activated at hospitals and only one attendant will be allowed in a labour room or a nursery and that, too, after proper verification.
Besides, the hospital officials will hand over the newborns to their parents only after verification and maintaining their biometric record.
TNS talked to different individuals to find out about the modus operandi adopted by the abductors, the reasons behind the crime and why the hospitals have failed to check these incidents and the police not been able to recover the abducted infants.
A lady doctor serving at the labour ward of a government hospital said that the abductors were mostly issueless women or those hired by them to do the job.
She recalled how more than a decade ago a female staffer had been caught red-handed at Services Hospital while trying to walk away with someone else’s newborn child. On investigation, she revealed that a woman who already had seven daughters and was admitted in the hospital for delivery had asked her to abduct a newborn boy for her. Her husband had warned her that he would divorce her if he had a female child for the eighth. The ultrasound records had shown that the lady was going to deliver a girl again but she did not share this information with anybody.
The lady doctor said that unknown women loiter around labour rooms and wards try to win confidence of male members attending the mothers and the newborns. As males are quite welcoming towards women, they easily mix up with them and disappear with the newborns the moment they get a chance. As the hospitals are overcrowded and the numbers of women admitted for delivery outnumber the beds available for this purpose, the chances of child swapping are also very high, she added.
Umer Hayar, Security In-charge at Ganga Ram Hospital, said that security guards are under stress as they are forced to work on low wages.
He said he was in charge of 75 male security guards and 25 female guards who are all paid around Rs7,000 per month.
He also said he was only getting Rs10,000 despite the fact that he had served for many years.
But despite all this, he said, all the security guards are working hard and keep a vigilant check on the people entering and going out of the hospital. “As parents come out from the hospital, we check the identification card of the infant on which the names of the mother and the father are mentioned there. The parents are asked to show their identity cards to confirm that the newborn belongs to them.”
It is believed that such incidents occur mainly due to the non-compliance of standard security procedures for protection of newborns hospitals, lack of knowledge regarding infant’s security and negligence of hospital management and the carelessness of the visiting families who do not look out for suspicious activities going around the place where the infants and their mothers are.
Dr Waqar Nabi Bajwa, MS Ganga Ram Hospital, says it is true that newborn babies are kidnapped from hospitals as there is family pressure on married couples to bear a child. The couples who cannot resist the pressure are ready to kidnap a child from hospitals.
He also says strict measures are being taken to ensure that such incidents become history.
The hospital, he says, will follow the guidelines provided by the Health department and the parents of the newborn babies will be educated on how to protect their newborn babies from unscrupulous elements.
Syed Safdar Raza Kazmi, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Civil Lines, Lahore, says that the police have taken several precautionary measures on the instruction of the government and asked the hospitals to increase their vigilance.
The police, he says, also make regular visits to the hospitals to ensure that the proposed procedures are being followed by the staff of the hospitals and whether the CCTVs are functional or not.
The situation is improving fast, he claims, and the number of incidents has come down considerably due to these measures.
Zubair Butt, In-charge of Edhi Centre, Lahore office says the desire of issueless people to adopt children may be one of the reasons behind abduction of newborns.
He says there are very few opportunities available to people and even in the case of adoptions approved by Edhi Foundation, people have to wait for long and fulfill a lot of requirements.
He says that quite often the couples say they want to adopt children on an urgent basis. If they do not do so their families would force them to break their marriages. “But we cannot break the queue and serve applicants as per their turn. Only those couples are allowed to adopt who qualify the interviews conducted by Mr and Mrs Abdus Sattar Edhi.”
Amid all this panic, there is a report that the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) is also working on a software that will record footprints of newborns electronically. These footprints will be matched at the machines installed at the exit gates to confirm the identity and parents of the newborns being taken away from the hospitals.