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A Mother’s Crime

April 17, 2008 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

Walking back from the Mosque one afternoon, Shajahan Mohammad, a Bangladeshi laborer in Kuwait, stumbled upon a common scene. He saw two stray cats fighting over a piece of meat near a dumpster. However, deep in his gut Shajahan knew something was off as he moved in for a closer look. “The cats saw me and ran away in fear,” says Shajahan, “there was just something that seemed off about the meat they were fighting over. It did not look like anything I had seen before.” After further inspection, Shajahan came to the startling realization that his instincts were right and that the subject of the cat’s quarrel was not a piece of meat but rather the remains of a newborn human infant.

The phenomenon of babies being dumped in the Gulf region is nothing new and is certainly on the rise. Countries in the Middle East like Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain have seen the cases of babies abandoned by their mothers shortly after birth swell to a level of at least 1 or 2 babies being found alive each month. There has also been a sharp increase in infanticide by mothers who give birth in secret. Such was the case recently in Bahrain when a Sri Lankan housemaid gave birth to a child unbeknownst to the family she lives with and cares for. Not wanting to keep the child she decided to put it in a bag and beat it on the floor until it ceased crying. Despite TMO’s attempts to track down relevant statistics, apparently no comprehensive data as to the number of babies killed in the GCC is currently made public.

The majority of mothers who either abandon or murder their infants are poor workers from Asian nations. They enter the Gulf countries and settle in one of those rich nations to serve as housemaids or nannies. Typically, they have illicit relations with their fellow male compatriots who work in the same households or areas in similar service fields. Some are impregnated by either consensual or non-consensual relations with their employers.

A minority of pregnancies the result of extramarital affairs between their mothers and a suitor. Not wanting her husband to find out about her extramarital relationship the mothers often hide the pregnancy and then dispose of the unwanted baby so that the husband will not find out and divorce her. Such was the case recently in Kuwait when an Arab woman had an affair with a man and became pregnant. She hid the pregnancy from her husband and gave birth by herself. She dumped the baby at a local science center where it was found alive by staff and taken to the nearest hospital. Her crime came to light after extensive DNA testing revealed her identity.

Quite often infants lucky enough to be found alive in GCC countries are left by their mothers on people’s doorsteps, at hospitals, local mosques or even in the backseats of cars. Some survive the wait to be found by a passerby. Others are unlikely to survive as they succumb to the blistering heat of the desert sun before anyone stumbles upon them. As for the babies who are killed by their mothers, they are often suffocated to death, drowned in a bucket of water or simply thrown in dumpsters like a piece of unwanted garbage.

In all the Islamic nations of the Gulf, adultery and sexual relations between unmarried persons is an offense that is punishable by stiff laws accompanied by prison time and ending with deportation. Regardless of the penalties, many men and women carry on their affairs in secret, and often without the use of contraception, thus resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

Once pregnant, the mother has little choice but to carry the fetus to term and then decide what to do with it. She could opt to leave the Gulf and head home to be a proper mother to her child. However, most women are too poor to feed themselves let alone a child and feel that getting rid of it at any cost is the best solution. Even if a mother did decide to do the right thing, getting past the authorities and on an airplane back to her homeland once noticeably pregnant and clearly unmarried is an obstacle in and of itself. She would be immediately arrested and thrown in jail upon detection.

Some women pregnant with unwanted babies look for other options than carrying the fetus to full-term. Abortion is not a legal option and is a crime punishable under the laws of GCC countries. There are not even established abortion clinics in the Gulf to facilitate in the abortion of unwanted pregnancies. However, there is an underground black market where abortions can be purchased for a price. Women who choose this option risk their own lives as an unlicensed doctor with inadequate and often non-sterilized tools often commits the deed.

A less invasive alternative to abortion is a copycat of the infamous ‘morning after’ pill, which has a growing market in the Gulf. The pill causes a pregnant women to miscarry the fetus she is carrying. However, the crude nature of the copycat version of the original pill often results in excruciating pain and extensive hemorrhaging. The woman who has taken the pill often requires the immediate care of a physician who can easily detect the presence of the illegal drug with a simple blood test.

Socially speaking, the main reason why a woman chooses to either abandon or kill her baby is because of poverty. In the Gulf, there is also the extenuating circumstance of the illicit affair, which is a crime under the law. Currently, there is not a viable social infrastructure in the Gulf to deal with the phenomenon of child abandonment and infanticide. As a result, women continue to kill or abandon their babies every day out of fear of abject poverty and the letter of the law.

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