Supporters rally around Saskatoon couple trying to adopt Pakistani child

Waheeda Afridi’s adopted son, Ajjab. The StarPhoenix photo.

JASON WARICK
THE STARPHOENIX

Supporters are rallying around a Saskatoon woman stuck in Pakistan with her adopted son.

Nearly 200 people have signed a petition asking the Canadian and Saskatchewan governments to allow Waheeda Afridi to return to Saskatoon with three-yearold Ajjab.

“I don’t understand why this is happening. They need our support,” said Open Door Society board member Norma Sim.

“I can only pray they will be able to come home soon,” said longtime family friend

Arifa Rajput.

Their return is being blocked partly because Saskatch-ewan government officials don’t believe Pakistan’s “guardianship certificates” are sufficient to allow adoption, even though the United States and other countries do.

Afridi has been caring for Ajjab – her ill, widowed sister’s seventh child – since his birth in Pakistan. Afridi’s husband, Ashfaq, has remained in Saskatoon to work as a private security guard, and has not seen either of them in three years.

After trying to conceive a child for years, the Saskatoon couple decided to adopt. When Afridi’s sister became pregnant and her husband died weeks later, everyone agreed it was best for Waheeda and Ashfaq to adopt the baby.

They endured the arduous process to obtain a guardianship certificate from the Pakistani courts. They passed a home study for prospective adoptive parents conducted by the Saskatchewan government.

“They did everything properly,” said Nayyar Javed, family friend and founder of Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan.

“Waheeda and her husband have worked so hard to upgrade their education, to find good jobs and to integrate into Canadian society,” said Javed.

However, provincial officials are blocking any such adoptions. One other issue is the provincial government doesn’t want to allow adoptions from nations which are not party to an international adoption treaty called The Hague Convention, a safeguard against smuggling and other unethical practices.

Supporters say it’s important to have rules around international adoptions, but exceptions are made for similar cases in other jurisdictions. The U.S. allows several dozen Americans to adopt Pakistani children each year, as do other Commonwealth nations.

“This is the furthest thing from child trafficking. They are rescuing this child. It’s a no-brainer,” former Open Door board member Deb Hopkins said.

Rajput, who Afridi refers to as “Auntie,” said it’s understandable Afridi does not want to return without Ajjab, even though she is suffering from a serious medical condition.

“Would you abandon your three-year-old child? Imagine the suffering they are going through,” said Rajput, one of the few Pakistanis in Saskatoon when she arrived in the mid-1970s.

“Canada is my country and Saskatoon is my home. I have to have faith this will work out.”

Their Saskatoon lawyer, Haidah Amirzadeh, has filed a request for a judicial review of the case. She and the supporters hold out hope that provincial and federal government ministers will help them.

She said the best interests of the child should be paramount and it’s obvious Ajjab would be better off with Waheeda and Ashfaq in Saskatoon.

Ashfaq said the support has lifted his mood.

“I am a little bit happy. People are speaking out for us, and I hope it will work,” he said.

“Please do not be afraid about Ajjab. He is just a little helpless boy.”

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