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As bodies rot, they steal kidneys

By Mohammad Shehzad in Muzaffarabad/Bagh/Islamabad
October 28, 2005 23:54 IST
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The October 8 earthquake has been a big blessing for the kidney mafia in Pakistan.

Hundreds of brokers working for unscrupulous private clinics are roaming in different parts of the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) to 'hunt' for potential kidney sellers.

Complete coverage: the quake and after

Hundreds of thousands of families in the quake-hit areas have become penniless—a majority of them live below the poverty line earning $1/day. They are on the 'target-list' of these brokers. In several cases, the quake victims have volunteered to sell their kidneys.

This reporter was astonished to see an ad—"Goorda Bara-e-Frokht [Kidney for Sale] outside a worn out tent in Bagh (a village in Pakistani Kashmir).

The ad was on an A-4 size sheet of paper, inscribed with the blue ink, pasted on the tent by Rumzan, a 33-year old man. The inscription had faded away due to the rain and sunlight.

'The earthquake has made me penniless. It has killed my elder brother. I don't have good education that could get me a decent job. Some months ago, I heard on BBC radio that a poor woman in Dhaka had put up an ad to sell her one eye to support her family. This gave me an idea to put up an ad for my kidney's sale,' says Rumzan.

Human trafficking in the quake's aftermath

Rumzan was playing cricket in the fields with kids at the time of earthquake. His brother Bashir—a driver— who was sleeping in the house, perished under the rubble. Bashir and Rumzan's wives were out to fetch water.

Now Rumzan is left alone to look after Bashir and his family—seven members—who have currently sheltered in a small tent at the bank of Bagh River.

The government initially decided to pay a compensation of Rs 100,000 [$1666] per deceased. It has now changed the policy. The same amount will be paid on 'per family' basis. This means if a family lost seven people it would still get the same amount as if it had lost one member.

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'I have no hope from the government. It lies! The compensation is a false promise. We have to fight our miseries ourselves. Nobody will take pity on us. There are no employment opportunities in Bagh at present. I don't have the money to migrate to any safer place. To the best of my wisdom, selling a kidney is the only solution,' said Rumzan.

Rumzan is not wrong. The government has a track record of embezzling such compensation. It has yet to pay compensation it promised to people affected by the Mangla Dam more than 30 years ago.

A day later, a delighted Rumzan had found a client.

'I am selling my kidney to a foreigner who will pay me Rs 240,000 ($4,000). I found the client through a broker who will take Rs. 60,000 ($1000) from the total amount,' Rumzan said.

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'Rumzan is lucky to get a foreign client. Had it been a local client, he would not have got more than Rs 120,000 [$2,000],' said Kamran, the broker who came from Lahore.

'I am a genuine broker and I have a genuine client. I am not an imposter like others who are working for rogue clinics. I will take Rumzan to Lahore along with his family; have his pre-operative tests and a signed legal paper. I will take care of his every need until the kidney is donated,' said Kamran.

A 37-year old villager from Dheerkot (a village close to Bagh)—Rab Nawaz—has sold his kidney against a consideration of 150,000 rupees.

Rabnawaz has lost his wife and three children in the quake. He has a 16-year-old daughter—Rubina—who is engaged to her first cousin.

'I would buy a small piece of land and give it to my daughter as dowry. She and her husband would be able to construct a house on it. I am healthy and can survive well on one kidney,' says Rabnawaz.

Like Rumzan, Rabnawaz too is skeptical about the prompt delivery of compensation. He was persuaded by a Multan-based broker Zulfiqar to sell his kidney. Rabnawaz will go to Multan next week with his broker and undergo tests in a local hospital. Afterwards, he will sign an agreement.

'The quake has strengthened jehad'

'Sale of kidneys, putting up an ad for their sale/purchase is not a crime according to the law of the land,' says a Lahore-based lawyer M D Tahir.

Some two years ago, Tahir filed a petition in Lahore High Court seeking legislation against the practice of selling kidneys. In April 2005, Justice Muhammad Muzammal Khan issued notices to the Interior Secretary and the Punjab Chief Secretary to reply to his petition. At the last hearing, the Court said that it would send the petition as a reference to the National Assembly Speaker for legislation.

'The government has not taken measures to prevent the sale of kidneys in the country,' claims Tahir.

Last week, the Bagh police arrested five Afghans for allegedly removing kidneys from the dead bodies of quake victims. Police recovered 15 kidneys along with surgical equipment from their possession. The suspects, refugees from Peshawar, had frozen the kidneys in ice-containers.

'The Afghans must be foolish. They have no idea that the kidneys are of no use to them. A kidney could survive for two hours only after it is removed from a person's body and properly preserved. It could last for 48 hours but it will be damaged. The kidney must be transplanted within two hours,' says Dr Asim Chaudhry of the Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad.

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Police officials said the Afghans were illiterate.

'They have no previous criminal record. They work in Peshawar as daily wagers. Two are aged between 28-31 and the rest 35-38. They also work as butchers during Eid when sacrificial goats are slaughtered. They had no idea what they were doing. They thought they would sell the kidneys to private hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and make a lot of money. They were simply stupid!'

Muzaffarabad is no more

'Kidney sales takes place in a very systematic manner. We don't remove kidneys from the dead people. We look for the live donors. We offer them good money and convince them to sell their kidneys. We are connected with qualified doctors. A kidney seller would undergo numerous tests and then he would be allowed to go home after signing a contract that whenever he would be summoned, he will come back and donate the kidney. The kidney is removed from the body of the seller and immediately transplanted into the body of the purchaser. This does not work the way the Afghans were doing. They had just a piece of decaying flesh in their hands,' says the broker Kamran.

'There is no legal framework to regulate trading in human organs. Police would register a case some other laws that would have only an implied relevance. Therefore, as a result, the issue has not been highlighted very prominently in the legal circle,' says Tahir.

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Mohammad Shehzad in Muzaffarabad/Bagh/Islamabad