In Pakistan, a country beset by problems of violence, poverty and illiteracy, a famous anchorman, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a religious Muslim as well as a local sex symbol, hosts a "The Price is Right" type of show, call "Gift from God". During Ramadan, it is aired seven hours a day, and the grand prize is a newborn baby.
A special prize for special days. Win and take home a small child. Hussain explains that, in any event, they are "abandoned children that are condemned to grow up in the street, only to be enlisted by terrorists and to end their days as suicide bombers. We offer them an alternative. What is wrong with that?"
He adds that the newborns are often found in the trash, and already gnawed on by dogs. All true. There are 250 million street children in the world, 61% in Asia, 32% in Africa. As early as the age of six, many end up as soldiers, prostitutes, victims of pedophilia, theft and terrorism.
The problem is that Hussain, far from providing an alternative to this situation, uses it to his advantage: he hands the children as if they are objects, prostituting them for the audience, and placing them in the arms of unknown customers. More broadly, the society to which he belongs tosses 1,200,000 children into the streets. You see them wander around searching for leftovers in the heaps of trash; come across them as they work, pushing overloaded carts by hand 15 hours a day; prostituting themselves, or when they try sell contraband goods. You see them with their eyes eaten by flies or brought to the ground by AIDS and they tell you that for years they have not known where their mother is.
The people to whom he gives them, might, for all we know, have answered a quiz on television, to the sound of drums; but could, in turn, exploit them just as horrendously as others might. Turning these children into gifts, treated as objects -- slaves, really -- is just as dehumanizing as the terrible alternatives from which they are supposedly being rescued.
The enormous disaster to which he has become an accomplice is not Hussain's fault; he may well have good intentions, and some babies might even be fortunate enough to find loving homes. But treating children as abandoned trash on Pakistani television is revealing of the Third World landscape.
Several days ago the letter of a Taliban leader, whose group had assaulted then-15-year-old Malala Yousefzai simply because she wanted to go to school, dared to explain why he had decided, knowingly and with regret, to shoot her in the head and burn down the school -- a gesture similar in misguided compassion to Hussain's for the children he gives away.
Meanwhile, the Americans have decided to negotiate with the Taliban. A letter of this kind should end that thought. Although Hussain is not a member of the Taliban, his talk show, in so casually discarding and possibly harming helpless children, nevertheless profits from a dreadful situation that apparently no one is even thinking about fixing. American moral equivocation only reinforces unacceptable behavior.
The Europeans might ask the Pakistani government if it would like to remain a friend; then ask for a clarification of its policy on child exploitation -- and then hold them to it.
Fiamma Nirenstein, journalist and author, former Vice-President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, Gatestone Institute.