It is a muggy, loud night on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Iaboni* sits on a single thin blanket and reserves a spot under a streetlamp that will serve as a sleeping spot for her and her two children. She arrived in the early evening to secure a spot as far away as possible from rat-infested piles of waste and, once settled, sent her two young boys to beg for change. Around her, men, women and children lie in makeshift beds and shelters while those who arrived too late are sent off to spend the night wandering or squatting in doorways. Iaboni wipes her tired, careworn face with bony hands and whispers a prayer.
She used to have a house, she says. It was modest, but it was a safe space for herself and her four children. Her voice trails off as she corrects herself: she used to have four young children.
Iaboni’s gaze fixes on a group of young, dirty children hassling a rickshaw puller for change. Her life was shattered, she says, after her husband died. She was pregnant and had no surviving immediate family, her only relative being a distant uncle who was already pushed past his financial limit. Her meager income from working as a maid did not enable her to provide for her family.
Her children’s cries of hunger intensified as weeks went by and, when she was evicted from her home, Iaboni became desperate. With a heavy heart and tear-filled eyes, she handed her daughter to a stranger, enabling the survival of her family for a month. When their situation again became pressing, she sold her newborn son for the equivalent of $74 (USD). Tears fall unchecked as Iaboni describes the transactions as though she was “selling her heart and soul, never to regain them,” and as each day goes by, she fears she will forget the faces of her lost children.
Iaboni’s story is not unique. The intense poverty many widows experience can force them to make the most heart-wrenching of decisions: to sell their children for a small price—to sell them to complete strangers—without any hope of seeing them again, or watch them starve.
Many of the trafficked children are exploited to work in dangerous jobs or are forced into child prostitution. The International Labor Organization estimates that 5.5 million children worldwide are victims of trafficking. Many parents hope that, in selling their children, they will not only secure funds to ensure their survival for the coming weeks or months, but may be providing their children with a better chance of survival and a more stable future. Sadly, this is rarely the case.
In most instances, women are approached by individuals claiming to represent child welfare agencies. They convince mothers that it is in the best interests of the child to be separated from his mother; they leave her with a wad of cash and a broken heart.
It is our duty as Muslims to make sure that destitute widows like Iaboni and their children are provided for so that do not have to face this horrible choice. You can make a difference in the life of an orphan as the Prophet (pbuh) repeatedly taught us to do.
With your sponsorship, children who have lost their fathers will continue to live with their mother or next of kin whenever possible, while receiving a stipend to cover their food, clothing, medical care, housing and schooling. For children who cannot receive adequate emotional support and stability with their next of kin, who cannot reach a school from their village, or who have lost both parents, living in an orphanage gives them round-the-clock care and access to education in the company of their peers. But your sponsorship is the deciding factor for these children: will you make that difference for them?
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of beneficiaries.