KYRGYZSTAN: Focus on abandoned children in south [Report]

Relates to: 
Date: 
2004-05-05

Ainura is a pregnant 21-year-old studying at one of the universities in the southern city of Osh. However, despite the fact that she is going to be a mother, she wants to sell her unborn offspring. "I will have to pay the tuition fee shortly and I have to study one year more, so I want to sell my son - it will be a boy, ultrasonic examination has shown that," Ainura, who refused to be identified, told IRIN at an orphanage in Osh, where she had come to learn the addresses of people eager to adopt a child.

Sadly, such cases, while uncommon, are hardly news. Since gaining its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has seen a sharp increase in the number of mothers wishing to sell their babies due to economic hardship.

Not only that, but there are also occurrences of abandoned children, and these happen more frequently in the poverty-stricken south, where local experts are increasingly concerned.

"The curve of the phenomenon over the last three years has rocketed up," Buken Maksutbaeva, the head of an orphanage in Osh, told IRIN. "Before such cases used to hardly constitute half of our children.

Now it is 95 percent, she asserted, noting of the 48 children brought to the facility last year, 45 of them had been abandoned by their own mothers. But the situation is more or less the same in the country's other child institutions, some officials note, commenting on the issue of hundreds of poor babies left by their parents to the mercy of fate.

CAUSES

Local clerics in the largely Muslim nation have added their concerns. "It is fraught with the deterioration of the moral climate in the society, broken fates, vulnerable childhoods and the crime rate going up," Zakirali Syddyk, the departmental head of a local kaziyat, a religious body, told IRIN in Osh.

According to local social services officials, there are three categories of women who reject their newborns. While the majority of them are mothers officially doing so while in hospital after delivery, there are also those who drop their babies in a conspicuous place, hoping for them to be found by kindly people. But there are also mothers who doom their offspring by dropping them under the cover of night into dustbins, sewage pits and ponds.

"I opened up a small bag thrown into a dustbin and found a lifeless small body of a baby, a girl. She was probably born a few hours ago," Aleksei, a 58-year-old homeless man making a living around a former factory dormitory in Osh, told IRIN.

Orphanage officials in Osh say such cases are mainly of young women migrants from rural areas. Migrating from rural areas to the larger cities in search of jobs and opportunities, they dream of a better life, and having an unwanted pregnancy is not part of the picture.

"In other words, they are the ones that haven't sorted out their lives and don't know how to sustain themselves - not to mention a baby," Gulmira Osmonova, a local paediatrician, explained.

IMPUNITY

And while there have been criminal charges brought against individuals engaged in the selling of newborn babies, the vast majority go unpunished. Several investigations are under way in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. In some cases, even staff members of maternity houses themselves have been found guilty of involvement. Just last year, a woman who sold her son was sent to prison, while the court ruled that the boy be taken from the family which had illegally adopted him, and sent to an orphanage.

Commenting on such incidents, Salima Sharipova, a writer and publicist living in Osh, cited grinding poverty and a feeling of hopelessness as the root causes. There had also been a deterioration of social morals over the last few years, during the transitional period since the country gained its independence, she observed.

"Some misunderstand personal freedom and interpret it as permissiveness. They neither fear God nor the devil, but previously they were afraid of public opinion," she explained, noting that prior to 1991, instances of child abandonment and premarital pregnancies were very rare. Meanwhile, some young mothers-to-be intending to sell their as yet unborn babies say that, faced as they are with such difficult circumstances, they have little choice in the matter.

Maksutbayeva of the Osh orphanage said she had had many inquiries from young women wishing to sell their babies to rich prospective adoptive parents, despite her efforts to convince them such actions were illegal and immoral. But some social service officials consider that the party trying to adopt a child by bypassing the legal ways and paying money, deserves reproach.

Many prospective adoptive parents, they say, believe that they face a lot of fuss and trouble in having to apply to various institutions to obtain necessary permits. In fact, however, all that is required from prospective adoptive parents to obtain the permits are health, residence and payroll certificates. On receipt of these a municipal commission can make a decision, though it remains extremely difficult for foreign nationals to adopt a local child.

ADOPTIONS

Not only young new mothers were abandoning their newborns, Maskutbaeva said, but the number of babies being abandoned at maternity homes by women after their fourth, fifth or sixth pregnancies was also on the rise. Dinara, a 35-year-old resident of Osh, abandoned her four-day old daughter at the maternity home. "I cannot feed the elder five children, my husband is jobless and I get only US a month [salary].

Maybe those who will adopt her will be able to give her a proper upbringing and education," she told IRIN. Most such children are subsequently adopted, Oksana Kosacheva, the deputy mayor of Osh, told IRIN. However, such infants with weak health and congenital malformations were not so lucky and it would later prove difficult to arrange their later lives as they would rarely be adopted and boarding schools would be reluctant to accept them.

The staff members at the orphanage cited an example of a girl named Intizar, suffering from a moving disability, whom no boarding school wanted to accept. In the long run, however, an American family took her in for treatment to the US and subsequently adopted her.

Earlier, in October, she had visited the Osh orphanage with her adopted family, but, such cases were very rare indeed, they said. Yet another problem was that of the thousands of migrants going to Russia, Kazakhstan and other countries, leaving their offspring without any proper care at all. Nikolay Yarmuratiy, the head of the Kyrgyz Association of family children's houses (orphanages), noted that people were busy with other issues. "Bringing up children, unfortunately, is not a priority," he said.

LACK OF FUNDS

The association has reorganised three orphanages and, together with the Osh municipality, has sought to establish a shelter for homeless children. "The donors haven't supported us yet," Kosacheva of the Osh municipality said. However, they had not lost hope of establishing a drop-in centre. "It is a matter of time," said Yarmuratiy. The local enthusiasts plan to check every building and every street with the sole aim of finding such children as there are no accurate statistics in the country on the vulnerable group.

HELP FROM NGOS

Like many other organisations in Kyrgyzstan, orphanages face numerous problems, the main one being lack of resources. The state budget allocates only some US .35 per day to feed one orphan. In such circumstances the only help comes from international organisations and NGOs, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children, and others.

UNICEF is implementing a cooperative programme with the Kyrgyz government for the 2000-2004 period on child development and the welfare of adolescents, towards which UNICEF has already allocated more then .5 million. One element of the programme is said to be the training of the social services workers on counselling children deprived of parental care.

However, the Association activists noted that the number of international organisation dealing with mother-and-child issues had diminished. Some of them cut down their activities for various reasons, including the 11 September events in the USA. According to Syddyk of the local kaziyat, the actions of authorities were limited to stating facts and sending abandoned infants to orphanages.

"However, it is important to eliminate the root causes of the phenomenon - social and moral ones," he said, urging all parties to initiate a large-scale educational campaign. He added that local mosques were ready to cooperate with the authorities in this context. The prominent writer, Sharipova, said she believed that neither the authorities nor society should tolerate immorality as practised primarily by some rich men who, according to young mothers abandoning their babies, were the biological fathers.

Sadykjan Mahmudov, the head of the Luch Solomona, a local human rights NGO in Osh, said that the enforcement of the current laws was poor, because it was very difficult to identify the parties involved in the sale of newborns or those who were abandoning their babies secretly. According to local experts, only a few cases out of hundreds were being detected.

A crucial element in tackling the issue was that of the family, Mirzaim Razayeva, a departmental head at one of the maternity homes in Osh stressed. "This aspect has been missing," she told IRIN, adding that it was also important to educate young people on contraceptives and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

Meanwhile, the problem was continuing to grow, Nazyr Mamatkulov, a retired prominent education expert, told IRIN in Osh, adding that there was a potential danger of a generation of orphans, which would have no family ties and never experience a parental caress. "When an abandoned child looks at you with eyes ablaze, you start asking yourself why they are so unfortunate?" he said.
[Source: IRIN News]

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