Value of the Child and Infant Care Belief Practices in Rural Punjab, Pakistan

This ethnographic study was conducted in rural Punjab, Pakistan and it explores infant care belief practices and associated fears in connection with the social value of the child in rural Punjabi socio-cultural context. The study is comprised of articles that provides theoretical, methodological, visual and emperical insight of the social value of the child. This study is based on the perspectives of the interdisciplinary social study of childhood and social construction of infant care belief practices in connection with socially valued child. This study explores and presents the social value of the child and its different interconnected facets, associated fears related to the social value of the child and its physical vulnerability. The study also explores the magico-religious aspects of the infant care beliefs practiced in rural Punjabi context to protect the child against harms and ‘harmful’ people. Data used in this research was obtained through six month fieldwork completed in three rounds using an ethnographic approach. Participant observation and in-depth unstructured interviews were used as primary data collection tools.

The main theme “the Interconnectedness between Infant Care Belief Practices, Fears and the Social Value of the Child” discusses the triangle that interconnects the social value of the child with the fears of losing a child and corresponding infant care belief practices. Under this theme discussion is extended to familial, religious and emotional value of the child. The fears are related to the evil effects, fertility issues, childlessness, and infant heath and survival. The infant care beliefs are about protecting mother and the child during pregnancy and after birth. Second theme “Magico-religious Belief Practices Related to Infant Care” discusses the idea of sympathetic magic that interprets the magico-religious paradigm of infant care belief practices including fears, protection and remedies.

Based on the findings presented in the articles and cross-cutting themes, the study concludes that infant care belief practices situate different aspects of the cultural lives of the parents and children. The social value of the child that constitutes the status of the child in the society brings to light several infant care belief practices that are means to ensure children wellbeing. There is a complex and meaningful interconnection among religious, emotional and familial value of the child that ultimately encompass the socially value child. In this connection health and survival of the child is a primary concern of the parents and the community. The magico-religious aspect of these belief practices provides a cultural cognition to make sense and give meanings to these belief practices and their efficacy.

Following are the articles that provides methodological, theoretical, visual and emperical insight of the social value of the child in rural Punjab, Pakistan.

At-home ethnography: a native researcher’s fieldwork reflections

Qamar, A. H. (2020). At-home ethnography: a native researcher’s fieldwork reflections. Qualitative Research Journal. 21(1), 51-64

In last few decades, the native anthropology has been highlighted for its potential to immediately grasping cultural familiarity, contextual sensitivity, and rapport building. Nevertheless, detachment from the native context is also seen as a challenge for the native researcher. This paper aims to provide invaluable information about the fieldwork experience of the author as a native researcher in rural Punjab Pakistan. The author presents and reflects the fieldwork challenges faced and the strategies used to overcome the challenges. The primary objective of this paper is to discuss the methodological strategies to face the challenges of doing at-home ethnography.

Social value of the child in the global south: A multifaceted concept

Qamar, A. H. (2022). Social Value of the Child in the Global South: A Multifaceted Concept. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 20 (2), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476718X22108958

The term “the value of the child” was coined by economists in the context of demographic transition and fertility, emphasizing economic and cultural aspects. However, the scope of the value of the child was confined to a cost-benefit analysis. The “social value of the child” is a comprehensive concept that encompasses the economic, psychological, social, and cultural value of the child. Contextual knowledge of childhood was emphasized with the emergence of the sociology of childhood, taking into account the diversity of children’s lives affected by cultural and institutional contexts across the world. This essay offers a synopsis of the social value of the child and the social construction of the value of the child in the global south. The global south represents the complex socio-cultural context of the majority world, wherein modern or global theories of childhood originating in the global north are contested. This brief article concludes that studies emphasizing the value of the children in the global south should investigate the intricate and relevant interconnections between the psychological, familial, and religious value of the child, all of which contribute to the social value of the child.

Social Value of the Child (Photo Essay)

Qamar, A. H. (2022). Social Value of the Child (photo essay). Contexts, 21(1), 40-45.

This pictorial presentation of childhood aims to provide a visual depiction of the social value of the children in rural Punjabi socio-cultural context. I took these photographsin a village in south Punjab, Pakistan while doing an ethnographic inquiry about infant healthcare belief practices and the social value of the child in rural Punjab.

The Social Value of the Child and Fear of Childlessness among Rural Punjabi Women in Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2018). The social value of the child and fear of childlessness among rural Punjabi women in Pakistan. Asian Journal of Social Science, 46(6), 638-667

The ‘Child’ is a value-laden concept in rural Punjabi society with foremost pronatal values. The woman is primarily responsible for childbearing. Fertility is valued for the social value of the child that raises the status of the woman as woman-being and a mother. It is believed that the child removes the curse of childlessness and sets a woman from social demotion. Infertility or other related issues that cause congruent child mortality are serious and often perceived as Athra, an “evil sickness” to be cured by religious healing. This ethnographic study investigates perceptions of rural Punjabi women about the socially valued child and the fears attached to Athra. This study was conducted in a village in southern Punjab. The study explores the social value of the child, the status of the mother, the ‘unexplained’ nature of Athra, and its contagious effects.

Social Value of the Child: A Resource for Enhanced Social Experience and Social Resilience in Pro-baby Global South (Conference Paper)

12-13 July 2022. Qamar, A. H. Social Value of the Child: A Resource for Enhanced Social Experience and Social Resilience in Pro-baby Global South. 3-4. Abstract from Children and Childhood Conference, Ipswich, United Kingdom.

Children's participation in economic activities has been documented as an inseparable part of the family support network in childhood studies. Children as an integral part of the parents' world contribute to enhanced social experiences, the continuity of the societal system, and the holistic well-being of the family. In the probaby global south children are political, economic, cultural, and social (PECS) resources that contribute to the parents' empowerment, prosperity, and status. This paper pursues the following research question: How does the social value of the child contributes a resource to enhance parents' social experiences and shape their social resilience? To explore the social value of the child in relation to the social experiences of parents (and childless couples). Revisited ethnographic data (interviews and fieldnotes) and reviewed my published work on the social value of the child (2022, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016).This ethnographic research was conducted in rural Punjab, Pakistan. Using the concept of 'social resilience' as atheoretical lens, the qualitative analysis of the findings provided four thematic categories: 1) Social support and visibility2) Access to resources 3) Social network and relationship 4) Social security and stability. I extend the concept of social resilience beyond its limited application in disaster studies and elaborate it as a social construct embedded in the contextualized social experiences. A description of parents’ social experiences and social value of the child provides an understanding of social resilience to avoid possible psychosocial 'crises' that are seen as consequences of ‘childlessness’.

Motherhood: A Resource for Social Resilience and Holistic Wellbeing (Conference Paper)

9 Dec 2021 – Qamar, A. H. Motherhood: A Resource for Social Resilience and Holistic Wellbeing. International Conference on Clinical Practice and Rehabilitation: The Interplay of Mind, Body, and Soul. Centre for Clinical Psychology, University of the Punjab, Lahore Pakistan.

Background: The desire to be a mother is much more than a reproductive instinct in pro-baby (pro-natal) society. Motherhood is a complex phenomenon that encompasses psychological, social, and cultural aspects of a woman's holisticwell-being. A woman's socio-cultural visibility is enhanced through motherhood, which also strengthens her psychological status, enriches her spiritual experience, and ensures her economic sustainability. All of these aspects of motherhood contribute to her transformative social experience, which allows her to achieve social resilience and holistic wellbeing. This paper, with an emphasis on motherhood as a psycho-social phenomena and an experience of social resilience for a woman, provides a reflective analysis of my qualitative investigations (2016, 2017a, 2017b, 2018a, 2018b, 2019, 2021) studying the value of the child and motherhood. Objectives: This paper pursues the following research questions; how does the value of the child contribute to the social experience of a woman in pro-baby societies and how does the motherhood contribute as a resource for social resilience and holistic wellbeing of the woman? Method: The paper provides a reflective analysis of seven qualitative studies that I did between 2016 and 2021 (three conference papers and four journal publications). These studies shed light on the importance of the child and motherhood in the Pakistani socio-cultural context. However, in this paper, I am representing these studies to highlight motherhood as a resource for social resilience contributing to holistic well-being. To that end, I organized the findings of these research into a nexus of psychological, social, and cultural dimensions of motherhood and the value of the child for a woman in Pakistani context. Results: An interpretation of motherhood as a phenomenon provided the script of social experience of women as mothers translated into social resilience – a pathway to holistic wellbeing. The physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and familial dimensions of women's well-being are interconnected by a triangulation of psychological, social, and cultural experiences of motherhood. In this regard, motherhood shapes social resilience as an experience of change and challenge that leads to continuity and stability in pro-baby context. Conclusion: The findings of this paper can help to raise (research and practice) understanding regarding the social dimensions of resilience and holistic wellbeing. Motherhood is more than just a physical or psychological experience for a woman. It is a phenomenon that should be investigated and explained in the context of social experience and its impact on women's social resilience.

Being a Child in Rural Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2015). Being a child in rural Pakistan. The Delhi University Journal of the Humanities and the Social Sciences, 2, 100-111.

In the West, childhood is considered a right of children to be free from adult-world responsibilities. However, in a non-Western context, children with gradual progress in their biological age and physical development participate in the adult world according to their livelihood conditions and social context. They are perceived as competent to play that role and contribute to household and livelihood activities. In the rural context, children are seen as active social actors with agency and they are not separated from the adult world. Their participation is perceived as a process of socialization for becoming future adults. Hence, a rural child is an
active and agentic „being‟ but in connection with its social context it is a „becoming‟ for its social upbringing and family well-being. After a review of some recent theoretical developments and case studies from various other parts of the world, this paper presents some findings from my own field research in Pakistan

Belief in the evil eye and early childcare in rural Punjab, Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2016). Belief in the evil eye and early childcare in rural Punjab, Pakistan. Asian ethnology, 75(2), 397-418.

The belief in the evil eye is associated with feelings of envy that brings harm to children. In Punjabi Muslim culture the evil eye is a threat to a child’s health before and after birth. This article investigates the “evil eye” belief and protective measures adopted by Punjabis to refract it. The study was conducted in a Pakistani Punjabi village. Findings reveal a dominant magico-religious approach, along with gradually diminishing folk remedies.

Where Medicine ‘Fails’: The Evil Eye and Childcare Beliefs among Rural Saraiki Mothers in Punjab, Pakistan

Qamar, A. H., & Ain, Q. U. (2021). Where Medicine ‘Fails’: The Evil Eye and Childcare Beliefs among Rural Saraiki Mothers in Punjab, Pakistan. Social Medicine, 14(2), 57-95.

The study aims to explore the evil eye belief practices among Saraiki mothers in a village in South Punjab, Pakistan. This study unfolds three aspects of the evil eye phenomenon; first, the ‘diagnosis’ of the evil eye that constitute the ineffectiveness of the available modern medicine, second the socio-cultural nexus of folk medical system and unmanageable or unexplained threats, and third the protective and remedial practices that disclose indigenous healthcare culture. Using semi-structured interviews and interpretative phenomenological analysis, five interviews were conducted and analyzed. Findings revealed the perceived failure of the available modern medicine when the evil eye effects are diagnosed. People religiously believe in the evil eye and relate it with the feelings of envy that bring harm to the child by resisting the effects of any medicine and internal immunity. The study concludes jealousy, hatred, and deprivation as primary causes, and religious and folk remedial practices provide a magico-religious shield allowing the effectiveness of other medical interventions. This study brings to light the need for cultural competence of medical professionals while working in indigenous communities where modern medicine cannot work if it is not gradually replacing or working in-line with the folk medical beliefs.

The Postpartum Tradition of Sawa Mahina in Rural Punjab, Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2017). The Postpartum Tradition of Sawa Mahina in Rural Punjab, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics, 11(1), 127-150.

The Punjabi postpartum tradition is called sawa mahina (‘five weeks’). This study* investigates infant health care belief practices in rural Punjab and looks at the social significance of infant care beliefs practiced during sawa mahina. During six months of fieldwork, using participant observation and unstructured interviews as primary research methods, the study explored the prevalent postpartum tradition from a childcare perspective. A Punjabi child holds a social value regarding familial, religious, and emotional values. The five-week traditional postpartum period provides an insight into mother–child attachment, related child care belief practices, and the social construction of infancy. A child’s agency is recognised in the embodied mother–child relationship, and a child is seen in a sympathetic connection with the mother. Establishing an early foundation of ascribed identities is another important part of postpartum belief practices.

Tona, The Folk Healing Practices in Rural Punjab, Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2015). Tona, the folk healing practices in rural Punjab, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics, 9(2), 59-74.

Consulting religion and magic for healing is an important aspect of healing belief practices. Magical thinking provides space for culturally cognitive patterns to integrate belief practices. Tona, a layman’s approach to healing that describes magicoreligious (fusion of magic and religion) and secular magic practices in rural Punjab, Pakistan, is an example of magico-religious and secular magical practice. The purpose of this study is to analyse tona as it is practiced to cure childhood diseases (sokra and sharwa) in Muslim Punjab, Pakistan. This is an ethnographic study I conducted using participant observation and unstructured interviews as the primary research methods. The study produced an in-depth analysis of tona as a healing belief practice in the light of Frazer’s principles of magical thinking and sympathetic magic. The study provides a deeper understanding of the magical thinking in magico-religious healing belief practices.

Pregnancy Myths and Early Chilcare: Research Reflections from the Rural Punjab, Pakistan

Qamar, A. H. (2012). Pregnancy Myths and Early Chilcare: Research Reflections from the Rural Punjab, Pakistan. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 6(4), 677-682.

Pregnancy is considered a special period in a woman’s life. There are myths about pregnancy that describe gender predictions, dietary beliefs, pregnancy signs, and risk of magic or witchcraft. Majority of these myths is in connection with the early childcare. In traditional societies midwives and experienced women practice and teach these myths to young mothers. Mother who feel special and vulnerable, at the same time feel secure in following these socially transmitted myths. Rural Punjab, a province of Pakistan has a culture rich with beliefs and myths. Myths about pregnancy are significant in rural culture and pregnancy care is seen as mother and childcare. This paper presents my research reflections that I did as a part of my Ph.D studies about early childcare beliefs and rituals practiced in rural Punjab, Pakistan.





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