Babies given away live on air in Pakistani talk show

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - Pakistani television is screening what many call its most controversial content yet in a ruthless quest for ratings: a talk-show host who gives away babies live on air.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a bespectacled 41-year-old with a neatly trimmed beard, gave away two abandoned infant girls to childless families last month and plans to give away a baby boy this week.

"If we didn't find this baby, a cat or a dog would have eaten it," Hussain proclaimed during one broadcast, before presenting a tiny girl wrapped in pink and red to her new parents. The audience erupted with applause.

Hussain is one of Pakistan's most popular talk-show hosts.

During his marathon broadcasts he cooks, interviews clerics and celebrities, entertains children and hosts game shows.

He usually gives prizes like motorbikes, mobile phones and land deeds to audience members who answer questions about Islam.

But at the beginning of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, when television stations battle fiercely for ratings, Hussain astonished Pakistan when he presented two families with babies.

"We were told that we had passed all the interviews and had been selected to adopt a baby," said Riaz Uddin, 40, an engineer. "We got our baby on live TV."

The abandoned babies were rescued by the Chhipa Welfare Association, a Pakistani aid organisation.

"In a day or two, the next baby will be given away, God willing," its head, Ramzan Chhipa, told Reuters on Thursday.

While the Chhipa teams scour the garbage dumps and other sites for discarded newborns, Hussain is also appealing for babies directly.

"If any family cannot afford to bring up their new born baby due to poverty or illness then instead of killing them, they should hand over the baby to Dr Aamir," a notice on his website reads. The children would be given to deserving couples on air, the notice said.

The show's producers did not return Reuters calls seeking comment. It was not clear if poor families wishing to keep their children would also be helped.