By Zeeba T Hashmi
December 11, 2014
The persistence of rape in our society is emotionally disastrous for both the mother and the unwanted child. This dilemma causes extreme stress on mothers who raise such children, despite the fact there are laws in Pakistan that allow for abortions in cases of rape
Since time immemorial, societies have been shaped to oppress, control and punish women whether or not they have been at fault. One of the biggest punishments they face even in the modern world is the fate of their children, who are not given due recognition for the simple fact that they have been born out of wedlock. Stigmatisation is higher in a country like Pakistan where many parents, usually mothers, are left with no choice but to abandon their illegitimate children or, in most heinous circumstances, kill them just moments after the child’s first cry. Those who survive the ordeal of being called a bastard child spend the rest of their lives in shame and destitution. With no one to look after them, these children are helpless in getting themselves recognised in the world as beings worthy of living a decent life. They are denied recognition and are abandoned to be left on their own and to provide for their own food, shelter and income. Though there are many families that adopt them, usually from the mother’s side, most remain out of luck and succumb to a world of crime due to their being ostracised in a society that considers itself morally righteous.
In Pakistan, the law considers all children constitutionally equal in terms of inheritance but in the case of the family laws for Muslims, illegitimate children cannot have any share in inheritance, both from the biological father and the mother, depending on the interpretation of the different Islamic schools of thought. In most cases, the invocation of the Muslim family laws in such matters also triggers the Hudood laws, which have their own penalties for committing Zina (adultery or fornication), the reason for which the matter of inheritance for the illegitimate children by Muslim families is not pursued in courts at all, thus denying these children any future, one that remains bleak for their survival in this cut-throat world.
Article 25 of the Constitution specifically mentions that the state can make special provisions for the protection of women and children. Moreover, Article 35 is meant to protect marriage and safeguard the future of the family, the mother and the child. However, nothing has been done to ensure and safeguard the rights of all children. In fact, in the absence of specific definitions in the Constitution, the very laws come into direct contradiction with Islamic jurisprudence over the rights of illegitimate children, which are further upheld by the courts. What is deliberately kept aside from the Constitution is to give all citizens equal rights whereby any little room that could be given to a bastard child in terms of inheritance and recognition is rudely taken away.
Sex before marriage is a taboo in Pakistani society. To top it off, there is no sex education in place to encourage safe sex so as to avoid the chances of a woman getting pregnant. Other factors include the persistence of rape in our society, which is emotionally disastrous for both the mother and the unwanted child. This dilemma causes extreme stress on mothers who raise such children, despite the fact there are laws in Pakistan that allow for abortions in cases of rape, something not commonly known to both the mothers and the general practitioners who are dealing their cases. Usually the culprit or the fathers of these children walk away scot-free, leaving the mothers alone to look after their children. In most cases, even the mothers are abandoned by society for the stigma attached to illegitimate children.
Wars also become a tool for many soldiers to exploit the women who fall prey to their brutality. For example, during the 1971 war, rape camps were created to impregnate Bangladeshi women with the aim to modify the racial composition of Bengalis by the Pakistani army. Many children were born to Bangladeshi women and they still remain without a name in Bangladesh. This act was synonymous to the ‘comfort women’ of World War II where many women were used and raped to comfort the Japanese imperial army. These women bore children out of wedlock and were not looked after by the government of Japan, which took years to apologise to these women for the hurt that had been caused to them.
There are many examples that can be found in the political, historical and societal trends of how women have been punished by snatching away the rights of their children, whose only fault was being born outside the socially and religiously sanctioned matrimony. The worst brunt of this unjust ordeal falls on children, who have nothing to do with their parents’ actions. The question that arises out of all this mess is whether disallowing inheritance to illegitimate children remains a religious issue. What if secular laws were in place for all Pakistanis? Would the children born out of wedlock be considered equal or would they have to go through this same ordeal?
There are some caregivers who look after abandoned children like the Edhi Foundation that places a cradle outside its offices for parents to put their unwanted children there. About three years ago, former President Zardari gave his surname to several nameless children so they do not face any discrimination. Acts like this give hope for the future of these children to carry on with their lives normally and grow into well-rounded people. Such small tokens of kindness can save a lot of children from the hardships of life. The laws should be reviewed to accommodate the rights of illegitimate children so that they do not have to be left on their own or fall prey to the many evils in society.
Zeeba T Hashmi is a freelance columnist and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org