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Samarkand Kids Abandoned

Impoverished Uzbek women are finding it so hard to get by that they are abandoning their children.
By Artur Samari

Growing numbers of Uzbek mothers are dumping their children in orphanages and even selling them in marketplaces to the highest bidder.


In February alone in the Samarkand region, police placed nine abandoned children in orphanages after they were left on the street.


A few years ago, most of the children taken into care were genuine orphans, or came from troubled families. But of the 3,000 kids in juvenile institutions today, only 10 to 12 per cent are orphans. The rest are all from low-income or single-parent families who have surrendered their children to the authorities or abandoned them on the street.


Staff in one children’s home told IWPR the alarming story of one abandoned child they recently received who for a long time would only eat bread and water, as he had never eaten anything else.


Residents of the Samarkand region have been still more shocked by the more sinister phenomenon of women selling their children to buyers in local markets.


One trader claimed that in mid-February she had witnessed two young village women with babies approaching traders in broad daylight at a market and offering their children for 5,000 sums (around five US dollars).


The trader said the women, around 18 years of ago, insisted they were not able to keep their children and immediately disappeared after being paid for them.


Similar, well-documented reports of the sale of children surfaced last year. Sakhib Khodjaev, chair of the Handicapped Society of Samarkand, personally witnessed one woman attempting to sell her pre-school children at the Dalniy Lager marketplace.


The woman had explained that her husband had died and said she had no means to feed her family. Khodjaev then helped the woman to place her kids in an orphanage.


Most women trying to dump their children are single parents from rural areas, where the unemployment rate is high and wages are extremely low.


In many cases, the women have effectively lost their husbands. The men have either become alcoholics or have left to find work in Russia, and their wives are left alone to cope with the problem of feeding the children.


In desperation, more and more are giving up their kids to childrens’ homes. When the latter refuse to take them, they are abandoned on the street or sold.


Orphanage staff say the local authorities are besieged with requests from desperate women for their children to go into care.


According to Samarkand officials, the mountainous Urgut region has the highest local incidence of abandoned children. The collapse of tobacco production, its principal industry, has led to widespread unemployment and drug addiction.


Salima Kadyrova, a lawyer at the Center of Human Rights Initiatives of Samarkand, CHRIS, said the practice of dumping children had no roots in recent Uzbek history.


“During the Second World War, our mother was left with three kids after losing her husband and it was very difficult to live," she said, "but I don't recall any cases of child abandonment. On the contrary, Uzbeks took in many orphans from Russia."


Kadyrova said women have been affected by a growing perception that the government no longer protected them and that "the ruling powers no longer value human beings or their lives. Today a person can die of starvation and the authorities don't care”.


CHRIS activist Ilkhom Vokhidi said the old support system for mothers had collapsed, “Before, women could get by on one salary, and there were free kindergartens.


"Today it is impossible to get by in that way and as a result more than half the under-threes in the Samarkand region babies’ home are foundlings. I can't justify their actions, but if Uzbek women are taking this step it can only mean there is no other way out.”


Not everyone accepts a link between economic deprivation and child abandonment, however. “The economy has nothing to do with it, it all depends on the individual," said Farogad Shakirova, chair of Samarkand city's women's committee.


"What can we do if these thoughtless women do not want to work? I and my colleagues often deliver speeches for these women in local town halls, where we remind them of their moral duties."


Shakirova said the situation had been dramatised. She blamed low educational levels in families, frequent lack of professional qualifications, and a desire among some women to make a quick buck.


Artur Samari is an independent journalist in Uzbekistan.


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