Global Human Rights Defence

Infanticide in Pakistan
Anonymous parent touching feet of baby lying on bed. Source: © Barbara Ribeiro/ Pexels, 2020

Author: Anna Magdalena Comploi

Department: Pakistan Team

1.     Introduction

According to a Report by the Guttmacher Institute, Pakistan has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, with 50 abortions per 1000 women.[1] The sex of the child is not supposed to be known until after birth. However, in spite of this abortions are disproportionately of female foetuses. Additionally, because the sex of the foetus is often not known and abortions are both expensive and difficult to access, the rates of infanticide of baby girls is particularly high. The Edhi Foundation (a large social welfare NGO that fosters abandoned babies, buries victims of infanticide and looks after women and elderly people) says the number of dead infants      its ambulances pick up has increased by almost 20 percent each year since 2010 (Hadid, 2018).[2]

2.     Definition

Infanticide is defined as the deliberate killing of a child aged less than one-year-old (Langlois, 2013). It can be classified in various ways, based on the age of the victim, the identity of the perpetrator and the means of killing the child (Hutton, 2020). Neonaticide refers to the murder of an infant within 24 hours of birth. On the other hand, filicide is the murder of a child by its parent or guardian (Hutton, 2020). These terms overlap, as many instances of infanticide and neonaticide can also be classified as filicide (Hutton, 2020). Infanticide can be distinguished from foeticide, which is the act of killing a foetus that has not been born (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022).

In addition, infanticide can be classified into active and passive infanticide (López, N.D.). Active infanticide refers to the act of deliberately killing a baby by, inter alia, suffocating, stabbing, hanging, burning and burning the infant (López, N.D.). Passive infanticide, on the other hand, means indirectly killing the baby through neglect, carelessness, inadequate nutrition, et cetera (López, N.D.).

3.     The Law

Chapter XVI, Section 338 of the Pakistani Penal Code states that abortion is permissible “before the limbs or organs of the baby have been formed” for the purpose of “saving the life of the women”, or “necessary treatment” carried out in good faith. The formation of limb organs is considered to take place after up to 20 weeks of gestation.[3] On the other hand, both child abandonment and infanticide are criminalized in Pakistan (Durrani, 2018). Section 328 of the Pakistan Penal Code holds that the father or mother of a child under the age of twelve years who leaves “a child in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning such child, shall be punished with imprisonment”.[4] It carries a sentence of up to seven years.[5] Section 329 of the PPC states that intentionally concealing a birth by “secretly burying or otherwise disposing of the dead body of a child” is punishable with imprisonment of up to two years.[6]

Infanticide goes against two of the most basic rights of international human rights law. Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that all children have the right to life, survival and development.[7] Pakistan ratified the Convention on November 12th, 1990.[8] The right to life is also laid down in numerous other Conventions and Instruments, including  Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[9] These Conventions also protect the right to non-discrimination, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender.[10]

4.     Infanticide in Pakistan

In South Asia, infanticide has been a widespread issue and girls are particularly vulnerable (PTI, 2020). In India, approximately 460,000 girls were “missing” at birth each year between 2013 and 2017 (State of World Population, 2020). Pre-natal gender-biased sex selection accounted for two-thirds of missing girls, whereas post-birth mortality amounted to about one-third (State of World Population, 2020). A report by the Lancet on Global Sex Ratios found that India has the highest rate of excess female deaths, approximately 13,5 per 1,000 female births (Guilmoto et al, 2018).[11]

According to a study by Population Council, the clearest indicator of the prevalence of gender-based infanticide is the sex ratio at birth (Sathar et al., 2015). In Pakistan, precise figures on sex ratios at birth are not available because the national census does not report this data (Sathar et al., 2015). A study by Fikree and Pasha shows that girls under the age of five are 30-50 percent more likely to die because of neglect than boys (Fikree and Pasha, 2004).[12] In Pakistan, girls are also at a much higher risk of infanticide or abandonment (Sathar et al., 2015). The Edhi Foundation, a non-governmental social welfare program, reported that 90 percent of the victims of infanticide were female (Sathar et al., 2015).

In addition, it also reported that the majority of infants abandoned at the doorsteps of the foundation were girls. The foundation set up drop-off places for unwanted infants, but in 2014, only 18 babies were dropped off in stark contrast to the 1,300 infants the foundation buried (Karimjee, 2014). Some of the reasons for a poor response to the foundation’s initiative could be the disapproval of religious leaders who stated that the initiative leads to immorality and promiscuity (Sattar, 2020). In addition, many drop-off sites are located on busy streets in densely populated areas (Sattar, 2020).

In 2017, 345 dead female infants were found in Islamabad (Bokhari, 2022). In the last decade, infanticide has particularly soared in Karachi, the capital of the Pakistani province of Sindh (Sattar, 2020). In 2019, the Edhi Foundation found 375 dead infants in Karachi, in which 99 percent of them were girls (Sattar, 2020). According to UNICEF, 300 dead infants were found dead in Karachi alone (Ahmed, 2014). However, the actual number of deaths is believed to be much higher, as it does not include infanticides in rural areas or those buried in secrecy (Ahmed, 2014). Infants are often found in garbage dumps, in some instances with the umbilical cord still attached (Ahmed, 2014). Infanticide is rarely reported (Durrrani, 2018). In 2018, the police in Karachi only registered one case of infanticide. (Durrani, 2018). According to a police official, the police only has the authority to investigate the causes of infanticide when someone officially registers as a complaint (Durrani, 2018).

5.     Root Causes of Infanticide and Foeticide

The Edhi Foundation cites poverty as one of the leading causes of infanticide. In cities such as Karachi, the population grew exponentially as Pakistan became more urbanised (Sattar, 2020). Many people who move to Karachi face a densely packed city (Sattar, 2020). Residents often live beneath the poverty line in illegal housing settlements, barely have access to education, with no job security while the cost of living continues to rise (Sattar, 2020). In addition, many are uninformed about contraception and birth control. Struggling with poverty, some people resort to infanticide (Karimjee, 2014).

Poverty is not the only cause of Pakistan’s high infanticide rate (Karimjee, 2014). Pakistan is deeply conservative – children born out of wedlock are considered forbidden under Islam (Karimjee, 2014). However, even when children are born out of marriage, female infants are more likely to be killed. If the baby is a boy, close relatives often try to protect the infant by pretending that he is their child. (Karimjee, 2014). Therefore, it can be seen that the root cause of postnatal sex selection is son preference (Ochab, 2021). Girls are often accorded a low value and seen as a financial burden (Sattar, 2020). Some mothers even face abuse and stigma when they discover they are giving birth to a girl and fear that their husband will divorce or beat them in retaliation (Sattar, 2020).

6.     Suggestions 

Despite laws prohibiting infanticide, cases of abandonment and sex-selective abortion remain high in Pakistan with a rising trend of targeting baby girls (UNFPA, 2020). The State of Population Report by UNFPA puts forward various suggestions to transform norms and harmful practices (UNFPA, 2020). In the first place, the report suggests “rebalancing disparities across economies, governments, services and employment” (UNFPA, 2020). In addition, service and communities could help carry social and behavioural changes (UNFPA, 2020). However, most importantly, we need to rethink marriage and family formation to avoid discrimination, violence and other harmful practices (UNFPA, 2020). This could be done by, for instance, improving access to contraceptives and educating girls and boys about equality and non-discrimination.  It is important to include men and boys in this fight and to adopt an innovative approach (UNFPA, 2020).


Maqbool, A. (2013, September 20). Infanticide prompts imam response in Pakistan.       BBC News.

Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Bokhari, M. (2022, March 9). Pakistani police search for man suspected of killing baby daughter. Reuters.

Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Cambridge Dictionary. (2022, March 16). foeticide. Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990)

1577 UNTS 3 (CRC)

Durrani, F. (2018, April 26). Female infanticide a growing threat in Karachi. Geo News. Retrieved March

20, 2022, from

Fikree, F. F., & Pasha, O. (2004). Role of gender in health disparity: the South Asian context. BMJ, 328(7443),


Guilmoto, C. Z., Saikia, N., Tamrakar, V., & Bora, J. K. (2018). Excess under-5 female mortality across

India: a spatial analysis using 2011 census data. The Lancet Global Health, 6(6), e650–e658.

López, N.  Infanticide. Humanium. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from


Hadid, D. (2018, November 28).  Cookie Consent and Choices. NPR. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Hutton, E. (2020). Infanticide in Law: Definition & Statistics. Study.Com. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March

1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR);

Karimjee, M. (2014, January 14). Infanticide is on the rise in Pakistan. Al Jazeera America. Retrieved March

20, 2022, from

Langlois, N. E. I. (2013). Infanticide – an overview. Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. Retrieved March 20,

2022, from

Ochab, E. U. (2021, January 8). What Are We Doing About The Issue Of Missing Women In 2021? Forbes.

Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

The Print.  (2020, July 5). India accounts for 45.8 million of world’s missing females over last 50 years:

UN report. ThePrint. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI Section 328

Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI Section 329

Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 338

Porter, T., & Gavin, H. (2010). Infanticide and Neonaticide. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 11(3).

Sathar, Z. A., Rashida, G., Hussain, S., & Hassan, A. (2015, July). Evidence of Son Preference and Resulting

Demographic and Health Outcomes in Pakistan. Population Council.

Sattar, N. (2020, January 21). Killing babies. Dawn. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Sayah, R. (2011, July 20). Killing of infants on the rise in Pakistan.       CNN. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

UNFPA. (2020). State of World Population 2020.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR)

[1] For further information, see

[2] For further information about the Edhi Foundation, see

[3] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 338.

[4] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 338.

[5] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 328.

[6] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI Section 329.

[7] Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[8] Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[9] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR).  

[10] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR); Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR)

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[11]For further information, see

[12] For further information, see

[1] For further information, see

[2] For further information about the Edhi Foundation, see

[3] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 338.

[4] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 338.

[5] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI, Section 328.

[6] Pakistani Penal Code Chapter XVI Section 329.

[7] Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[8] Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[9] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR).

[10] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR).

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948 UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR)

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[11]For further information, see

[12] For further information, see



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