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The "rat" children of Pakistan

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    The "rat" children of Pakistan

    "The rat children of Pakistan"
    29 June 1998

    On an ordinary weekday at the shrine of Shah Dola in the Punjabi city of Gujrat, hundreds of worshippers come to celebrate the life of one of Pakistan's most revered Sufi saints.

    Some choose to show their respect by dancing wildly - in a state of ecstasy.

    By the tomb itself dozens of women pray intensely. By doing so, they believe, they will be blessed with a child.

    According to a legend dating back hundreds of years a woman who's unable to conceive will become fertile by offering prayers here. But at a price.

    The couple can expect their first-born to be handicapped - a rat child with a tiny head. And it must be handed over to the shrine.

    The legend is very much alive. One woman, who had come to pray for a son, said God would punish anyone who did not honour their commitment.

    Experts say they are being deliberately deformed by criminal gangs operating around the shrine who then use them for begging.

    Many of the children handed over to the shrine or those claiming to represent it end up on the streets.

    At the main bus-stand in Gujrat we quickly came across a group of several rat-children with their owners.

    They all have the distinctive shrunken heads; they're severely handicapped and can't even speak.

    With their owners close behind, they approach passengers sitting in their minibuses waiting to leave. They demand money and they get it.

    It is widely believed that the handicapped are closer to God and must not be ignored. Their value as beggars is therefore enormous.

    Anusheh Hussain, head of Sahil, an organisation fighting against child exploitation in Pakistan says the rat-children can be sold for large sums of money:

    "One has heard that these children are sold from anywhere between 40,000 - which is approximately 10 dollars - to 80,000 rupees per child" she says. "On average they will be able to make, through begging, around 400 to 500 rupees a day, which makes it a very lucrative business considering that's twice the amount a civil servant makes."

    Because of this there is deep suspicion that the legend of Shah Dola has in fact been fabricated to trick ordinary people into handing over perfectly healthy babies. It's believed these are then deliberately deformed so that they can then be sold for begging.

    Pirzada Imtiaz Syed, a trade union leader based in Gujrat, he says he has heard of many cases of abuse:

    "I have not seen this myself but I have heard from many people that they use iron rings which are placed on the baby's head to stop it growing. I believe there are about 10,000 rat children in Pakistan controlled by a mafia of beggars who are all over the country. These children are also physically and sexually abused."

    The allegation that the children are being deformed using medieval contraptions is of course denied by those associated with the shrine in Gujrat. They say the rat-children are suffering from a genetic disease.

    But Pakistan's top genetic scientist, Dr Qasim Mehdi, who investigated this for three years, says this is medically impossible.

    "In order for a disease to be genetically inherited you have to have a disease running in the family" he says.

    "The point is that these children are not related to one another by any stretch of the imagination. Our investigation shows that they come from very different backgrounds, from very different families. So if there is no blood relationship between any two individuals and between even an incident where a father or son or uncle was involved, it cannot be a genetically inherited disease."

    The government says it is very concerned but claims that, following action by the authorities in the 1980s, the gangs operating at the shrine were removed and there are now no children being deliberately deformed in this way.

    But we found otherwise. At the bus-stand in Gujrat there was one rat-child being used for begging who looked at most seven or eight years-old. The minister responsible, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq promised further government action.

    "We will certainly go after these people" he says, "they are criminals and if you can give me any idea as to their whereabouts then we can ask the police to investigate. It's a crime against humanity."

    But what is really required is a full-blown investigation into this long-running mystery. Many experts believe the time has come to push religious sensitivities aside and for the government to take decisive action.

    [This message has been edited by Nadia_H (edited May 05, 2001).]

    I just think this is the most wevil practice we have in our country. Its so wicked and vile, it makes me hate the uneducated masses who turn in their kids believing the myth. Although its apparently not their fault but the lack of education and being superstitious. In addition to that i hate all superstitions because they are all fabricated devoid of any kind of scientific proof. So next time somebody tells me to change the path since a black cat crossed my way, you can just forget about it.


      i heard the same thing in india where
      people make children handicapped then put them out in the street for begging.
      begging is major industry i think they even have union. may be they should computrize
      the begging like opening a website where every click they get 1 rupee.

      [This message has been edited by rvikz (edited May 05, 2001).]


        10 dollars is 40000 rupees???


          Originally posted by Ghoncho:
          I just think this is the most wevil practice we have in our country. Its so wicked and vile, it makes me hate the uneducated masses who turn in their kids believing the myth. Although its apparently not their fault but the lack of education and being superstitious.
          Ghoncho - Among other aspects, what I find revolting from this article is this particular comment by the Pakistani governmental minister, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq: "...if you can give me any idea as to their whereabouts then we can ask the police to investigate". Goodness. I suppose it would be just too much for Mr. Haq to leave his cushy office, paid for by taxpayers, and pay a visit to Gujrat himself. How convenient for him to pretend to be puzzled as to the "whereabouts" of these children - if he was truly in the dark, then he should have accompanied the BBC journalist to discover the whereabouts of these children.

          Surely Haq should consider such a horrible practice of deliberate deformation of children to be his priority and therefore, as such, commence to lead his own investigation into the issue and not leave it upto the police "to investigate". This article was published slightly less than two years ago and I have yet to hear that any positive measures have been undertaken in order to successfully resolve it.


            I have heard and have actually seen few rat children. There are mysteries that surrounds everywhere and I don't see any concrete proof in this report either. I don't believe that whatever is happening is right but I am sure if women who didn't have kids for a while and are willing to give away their first born must have some reason to do so.

            Also 40,000Rs is more or less equal to $650 not 10 dollars.


              Vile and evil.
              The govt should do something against this, and heck this practice ain't even islamic.


              I Came I Saw I ATE
              You can't fix stupid. So might as well troll them!