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Peshawar Parents Face Arrest For Refusing Children Polio Drops

A Pakistani health worker orally administers a polio vaccination to a child.
Parents in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar face possible arrest if they refuse to administer antipolio drops to their children below five years of age, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Officials say the unprecedented move was decided in consultation with local religious leaders and to ensure the elimination of polio from the area.

Thousands of children in Peshawar -- as in other parts of Pakistan -- are not immunized because their parents refuse, often saying the vaccination is un-Islamic or in the mistaken belief it causes infertility.

District Coordination Officer (DCO) of Peshawar city, Siraj Ahmad Khan, told RFE/RL that parents not administering polio drops to their children could be arrested under existing laws.

"Local religious leaders and union council members would persuade the parents to administer antipolio drops to their children," he said. "Action will be taken and parents will be arrested [as a final resort] if they refuse to agree. Those measures are intended to ensure the Peshawar is declared a polio-free zone and this is a part of our campaign."

Health officials involved in antipolio campaigns have welcomed the decision. Director of the antipolio drive in Peshawar, Jan Baz, told RFE/RL that this is a national issue and strict measures should be taken.

"This is a national responsibility and anyone harming a national responsibility is a criminal under the laws of the land and liable to legal action," he said I suggest the government should adopt measures to remove even the slightest chance of refusal."

But Ghulam Yousaf, a cobbler by profession and resident of Bajaur tribal agency maintained that awareness must be created among parents instead of resorting to arrests.

"Punishment is not the solution," he said. "They must be informed that the polio drops are good for their children. This treatment fully allowed under Islam."

The government is presently conducting an antipolio campaign in seven of the 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.