A newborn baby abandoned on the street in the battleground Syrian city of Aleppo has been named “Gift from God” by the family who adopted her even at the cost of an extra mouth to feed.
In a city that has been devastated by fighting since July last year, where jobs have disappeared and prices for even basic goods have risen beyond most people’s reach, parents face impossible choices.
Doctors say the abortion rate has increased, as parents take fright at the prospect of having to fend for another child. Others have sent children to live with family members, or abandoned them altogether.
Hibat Allah, as she is named in Arabic, was lucky to survive her abandonment in a rebel-held neighbourhood of the city in December, her adoptive parents recall.
“She was left in a bag at the entrance to a building. It was 3:00 am, she was crying, and no one had cut her umbilical cord,” mother Umm Moawiya, a hairdresser turned volunteer field nurse, told AFP.
“She was lucky. In 12 hours, she was seen by 20 doctors in five hospitals. She was blue in the face and needed oxygen, but hospitals in liberated (rebel-held) areas did not have the electricity needed to run the incubator.
“Eventually I found a hospital in an occupied (army-held) area willing to keep her for two days.”
Umm Moawiya was tasked with looking after the baby, who at just two kilos (4.4 pounds) required the special care that could only be provided by a person with some medical care experience.
With four children already, Umm Moawiya’s husband admits he not did immediately welcome the idea of adopting the baby when his wife brought her home and suggested it.
“But my wife and children insisted,” Abu Moawiya said. “We named her ‘Hibat Allah’ because she really is a gift from God.”
Earlier this year, NGO Save the Children warned of a risk of increased child abandonment in a special report on the plight of Syria’s youth.
“In the panic of escape, many children become separated from their families. In other cases, parents make the tough decision to send children away to relatives in areas deemed less insecure,” the report published in March said.
“As the situation deteriorates further, many foster families will no longer be able to cope, increasing the risk that children may be handed over to institutions or abandoned to live on the street and fend for themselves in a country at war.”
And gynaecologist Nashwa Shakfi, who works with Syrian women arriving in Lebanon, told AFP in February that many pregnant Syrian women felt unable to keep their babies.
“Many of them think they won’t be able to pay for their baby’s needs, so they prefer to abort,” she said.
Overcoming his initial hesitation, Abu Moawiya went to register Hibat Allah’s adoption at one of the religious courts that the rebels have set up to administer justice in areas under their control.
“If her parents want to reclaim her, they will have to go there and petition for her,” said the 45-year-old trader, who has spent his whole life in Aleppo.
“God willing, no one will come for her,” said his wife.
“Many people have come to us, trying to adopt her, but we don’t want to let her go. There was even someone who offered to take her to Germany.”
Even Umm Moawiya admits that the addition to the family was not something that she and her husband had sought.
“With the fighting and bombing happening all around us, I prayed that I would not become pregnant,” she said. “Eventually, a fifth child came to us anyway.”