The beginning of the holy month of Ramadan is a time where television stations in Pakistan battle fiercely for ratings.
Cars, motorbikes and even household electronics are amongst the high-priced items given away by the Karachi Geo TV channel program Amaan Ramazan in the ruthless quest for ratings.
But many have been calling the television show’s latest move the most controversial yet – giving away abandoned babies live on air.
Two baby girls were amongst the first of many children that the show’s host, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, plans to give away.
The host, known throughout Pakistan for his showmanship, insists he is not exploiting the infants to boost ratings but rather attempting to save the abandoned babies from neglect.
Broadcast from an extravagantly decorated studio, where the audience sits beneath glittering chandeliers and fish swim beneath their feet under a glass paneled floor, Hussain handed a sleeping-baby named Fatima over to her new adoptive parents.
Understandably moved by the moment. Fatima’s parents wept as they held her. Her new father Riaz Ud Din, a civil engineer, told the audience the baby was the answer to his mother’s prayers – she had passed away only a day before the show aired.
“When the baby came into my arms on the show, 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,” Ud Din told reporters.
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 couple had waited 14 years for a child having been told that they would not be able to produce a child naturally.
The second couple to receive a baby explained they ahd waited even longer for the child – almost 17 years.
Both couples believed the precious gifts we’re not made any less special because of the manner in which they were given to them – live on air. In fact, they said they hope it will encourage others to adopt as well.
Nonetheless, child welfare advocates have expressed concern at the show’s decision. They claim a lack of confidentiality could expose the children and families to social scrutiny and stigma.
“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,” said Seema Jamali, assistant director of child welfare for the Sindh provincial government.
While adoption does not apply under Islamic law, couples can make an application to become legal guardians of unwanted infants. As such there is no proper legislation in place that people must go through to ‘adopt’. A lack of such regulation made it simple and easy for the show to essentially ‘give-away’ the abandoned girls.