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Signs of increasing desperation as food prices rise further

Shaukat Masih, 35, now struggles to feed his family. According to a new survey completed by the World Food Programme (WFP) over the first three months of 2008, nearly half of all Pakistanis are at risk of going short of food due to a sharp increase in pri
(Kamila Hyat/IRIN)

Within the last month at least two cases have been reported in the press of parents killing, or attempting to kill, children they felt unable to feed.

On 21 March in a village near the industrial city of Faisalabad, some 117km west of Lahore, a jobless father, Abdul Shakoor, reportedly killed his two daughters, three-month-old Aliza Noor, and Kainat, aged four.

His wife and mother prevented him from attacking a third child before Shakoor committed suicide by throwing himself in the path of a train. His distraught family said he often talked of "giving away" his daughters due to the family's crippling poverty and their inability to feed the five children.

In a similar incident in the southern Punjab city of Khanewal just three days later, a woman forced her six children, aged between six months and 10 years, to throw themselves into a waterway, and then jumped in herself. Khurshid Bibi, the wife of a labourer, was rescued along with four of her children. She later told police she saw death as a preferable option to ceaseless poverty.

“Shocking”

"These cases of parents killing children are shocking, but they give an insight into the socio-economic hardships people face," said I.A. Rehman, the chief executive of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Shaukat Masih, 35, a labourer who earns U$50 a month or less, can understand the desperation of these parents.

"There have been days when there is no food to put before my children. It is a terrible feeling. Anything is better than watching small children sleep without food," he said. Shaukat has three sons, but cannot afford to educate them. "We are lucky if we get two meals a day," Shaukat told IRIN, adding that the recent rise in wheat flour prices seemed to be "leaving us with no alternative but to kill ourselves".


Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
The break-up of the joint family system has exacerbated the impact of rising food insecurity in the country

Nuclear families

Kaisar Bengali, one of Pakistan's leading economists and researchers on social issues, who has headed institutions such as the Karachi-based Social Policy Development Centre, told IRIN: "If no measures are taken [on food prices] things will get worse."

Bengali explained why he thought some parents were killing their children: "With the breakdown of the joint family system, the nuclear family is extremely vulnerable to economic stress. When families lived together, the loss of a job for one brother was not as disastrous as it is within a nuclear family when there is nothing to fall back on."

Nighat Bibi, 26, knows just what he means. Nighat, who cleans homes, raises her three small daughters on an income of just $16 a month. Her husband is a drug addict and his family refuses to help her in any way.

"It's a daily challenge putting even one 'roti' [flat bread] before my kids. I often go hungry for days so that they can eat," she said.

Hoarding

Wheat flour (`atta’) is the staple for most of Pakistan's 160 million people and supply has been erratic since December, partly due to widespread smuggling and hoarding.

The latest shortages to hit Lahore and surrounding areas this week, according to media reports, are said to have been created by speculative millers and retailers hoarding stocks in the hope that they can maximise profits by selling at a higher price in the near future.

"Flour is simply not available. It's very difficult to manage without it," said Mussarat Yusuf, 45, a domestic worker.

A Reuters report on 4 April cited a recent World Food Programme (WFP) survey which indicated that nearly half of all Pakistanis were at risk of going short of food due to sharp price rises.

kh/ds/ar/cb


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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