Baby traf­fick­ers thriv­ing in Nige­ria

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Aname­sere Ig­boero­teonwu and Tom Essle­mont

As 16-year-old Maria strained un­der the an­guish of la­bor in south­east­ern Nige­ria, a mid­wife re­peat­edly slapped her across the face - but the real or­deal be­gan min­utes af­ter birth. “The nurse took my child away to be washed. She never brought her back,” the teenager said, gaz­ing down at her feet. Maria said she learned her new­born daugh­ter had been given up for adop­tion for which she re­ceived 20,000 naira ($65.79) - the same price as a 50 kilo­gram bag of rice.

And Maria is far from alone. A Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in­ves­tiga­tive team spoke to more than 10 Nige­rian women duped into giv­ing up their new­borns to strangers in houses known as “baby fac­to­ries” in the past two years or of­fered ba­bies whose ori­gins were unknown. Five women did not want to be in­ter­viewed, de­spite the guar­an­tee of anonymity, fear­ing for their own safety with crim­i­nal gangs in­volved in the baby trade, while two men spoke of be­ing paid to act as “studs” to get women preg­nant.

Although statis­tics are hard to come by, cam­paign­ers say the sale of new­borns is wide­spread - and they fear the il­le­gal trade is be­com­ing more preva­lent with Nige­ria head­ing into re­ces­sion this year amid on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence. “The govern­ment is too over­stretched by other is­sues to fo­cus on baby traf­fick­ing,” said Arinze Orak­wue, head of pub­lic en­light­en­ment at the Na­tional Agency for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (NAPTIP).

Record num­bers of baby fac­to­ries were raided or closed down in the south­east­ern states of Abia, Anam­bra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo this year, NAPTIP said. A to­tal of 14 were dis­cov­ered in the first nine months of 2016, up from six in 2015 and 10 in 2014, the data showed. But de­spite the grow­ing num­ber of raids, the scam ex­ploit­ing cou­ples des­per­ate for a baby and young, preg­nant, sin­gle women continues with new­borns sold for up to $5,000 in Africa’s most pop­u­lous na­tion where most peo­ple live on less than $2 a day.

Cul­tural bar­ri­ers are also a fac­tor in the West African na­tion, with teenage girls fear­ing they will be pub­licly shamed by strict fa­thers or part­ners over un­wanted preg­nan­cies if they do not give up their chil­dren, ex­perts say. “In south­east­ern Nige­ria a woman is deemed a fail­ure if she fails to con­ceive. But it is also taboo for a teenager to fall preg­nant out of wed­lock,” said Orak­wue. Maria said in the home in Imo state where she gave birth preg­nant teenagers were wel­comed by a ma­ter­nal nurse who liked to be called “mama” but went on to sell the ba­bies they de­liv­ered.

“(Af­ter I gave birth) some­body told me that mama col­lected big money from peo­ple be­fore giv­ing them other peo­ple’s ba­bies,” Maria told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in the grounds of a school com­pound in her vil­lage. “I do not know where my baby is now,” said Maria, us­ing a false name for her own pro­tec­tion. A lot of the trade is car­ried out in Nige­ria but au­thor­i­ties sus­pect ba­bies are also sold to peo­ple from Europe and the United States be­cause many for­eign­ers con­tinue to seek in­fants there de­spite the con­tro­versy around Nige­rian adop­tions.

The US Depart­ment of State alerted prospec­tive adop­tive par­ents to the is­sue of child buy­ing from Nige­ria in June 2014 af­ter Nige­rian me­dia warned that peo­ple were pos­ing as own­ers of or­phan­ages or homes for un­wed moth­ers to make money. “The State Depart­ment is aware of a grow­ing num­ber of adop­tion scams,” an alert on its web­site read. Over 1,600 chil­dren have been adopted from Nige­ria by US cit­i­zens since 1999, ac­cord­ing to the State Depart­ment web­site, about a third of them aged be­tween one and two years old.

A US of­fi­cial said the State Depart­ment fa­cil­i­tates con­tact be­tween for­eign of­fi­cials and US au­thor­i­ties when for­eign gov­ern­ments raise any con­cerns re­gard­ing the wel­fare of an adopted child. “To date, we are not aware of any con­cerns re­gard­ing the wel­fare of a child adopted from Nige­ria,” a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in a state­ment. In Bri­tain a cou­ple was found by the High Court to have “fallen un­der the spell” of an elab­o­rate fraud af­ter pay­ing 4,500 pounds ($5,600) for herbal treat­ment in Nige­ria that caused the woman’s stom­ach to swell, me­dia re­ported in 2014.

The cou­ple only re­al­ized they had been duped nine months later when pre­sented with a baby in Nige­ria that ac­tu­ally was not theirs, the Daily Mail news­pa­per re­ported. Ba­bies, whose bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents or back­grounds are unknown, are of­fered to women who have not been able to con­ceive nat­u­rally, ac­cord­ing to NAPTIP and in­ter­views with three women. The Bri­tish govern­ment said it was com­mit­ted to stamp­ing out what it calls the “mir­a­cle ba­bies” phe­nom­e­non.

“Spe­cially-trained teams are work­ing at the UK bor­der to iden­tify and safe­guard ba­bies and chil­dren who may be at risk of traf­fick­ing,” said a spokesman for the Home Of­fice (UK in­te­rior min­istry) in a state­ment. Den­mark sus­pended adop­tions from Nige­ria in 2014 cit­ing con­cerns over forgery, cor­rup­tion and lack of con­trol by the au­thor­i­ties. Apart from the il­licit trade in ba­bies, Nige­ria also faces the prob­lem of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional traf­fick­ing in women and chil­dren.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing, in­clud­ing sell­ing chil­dren, is il­le­gal in Nige­ria, but al­most 10 years ago a UNESCO re­port iden­ti­fied the in­dus­try as the coun­try’s third most com­mon crime af­ter fi­nan­cial fraud and drug traf­fick­ing - and the sit­u­a­tion ap­pears to be get­ting worse, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign­ers. The Nige­rian govern­ment has not rat­i­fied an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised set of rules known as the Hague Adop­tion Con­ven­tion which meant the laws gov­ern­ing adop­tions re­main murky and com­pli­cated, cam­paign­ers said.

“There is cor­rup­tion in the adop­tion process and that is the in­di­vid­ual (Nige­rian) states’ re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said NAPTIP’s Orak­wue in a phone in­ter­view. “But cen­tral govern­ment should step up its fund­ing to NAPTIP so we can in­crease sup­port to vic­tims,” Orak­wue said. So­phie, who was not able to con­ceive, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion she started to de­velop the symp­toms of preg­nancy af­ter vis­it­ing a herbal­ist in Enugu state in 2014. How­ever the tra­di­tional doc­tor told So­phie her swollen stom­ach con­tained gas re­sult­ing from the herbal treat­ment rather than a foe­tus - but she could ar­range to buy a baby. “(The herbal­ist) said that she would bring me a new­born baby, girl or boy, de­pend­ing on which one I wanted,” she said in the grimy sit­ting room of her apart­ment in south­east­ern Nige­ria.

The woman said a girl would cost 380,000 naira ($1,250) while a boy would cost 500,000 naira ($1,645), said So­phie who opted for a girl. But a sense of obli­ga­tion to the woman who brought her a child pre­vented her from re­port­ing the crime, she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “I con­sid­ered ev­ery­thing and thought to my­self ‘why should I re­port (the herbal­ist) to the po­lice?’ She had helped me,” she said.

NAPTIP does not have data on the num­ber of do­mes­tic adop­tions that have taken place, a fig­ure it says is not held by cen­tral govern­ment. “In the south­east­ern states, the sale of ba­bies is unar­guably very preva­lent as recorded by the agency,” said Cordelia Ebiringa, NAPTIP’s com­man­der in Enugu state.

Men are also in­volved in the process of il­licit baby traf­fick­ing, with sperm donors im­preg­nat­ing surrogate moth­ers who then sell their ba­bies, ac­cord­ing to two Nige­rian men. Sur­ro­gacy is il­le­gal in Nige­ria. Jonathan, 33, said he was paid 25,000 naira ($82) by his boss or “madam” ev­ery time he helped a client to be­come preg­nant. “I don’t see it as some­body ex­ploit­ing me. The madams pay me for my work,” said Jonathan, who with­held his full name. Jonathan said he did not know whether the women gave their ba­bies away or went on to sell them although he was con­cerned what he was do­ing could be il­le­gal. “I often think ‘what if the po­lice catch me?’”

Nige­ria’s anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing agency said it did not have data or in­for­ma­tion on the role of sperm donors, but many women they spoke to did not want to re­veal how they fell preg­nant. “NAPTIP has no records of studs that im­preg­nate the women at the baby fac­to­ries as most of the preg­nant women res­cued and in­ter­viewed in such cases claimed un­planned preg­nan­cies,” said Ebiringa.

Lit­tle in­for­ma­tion was made avail­able by the Nige­rian po­lice or au­thor­i­ties in south­east­ern states about the num­ber or iden­tity of the peo­ple who run the “baby fac­to­ries”. No data was pro­vided on the num­ber of ar­rests by po­lice in south­ern states of Enugu and Abia on baby traf­fick­ing of­fences de­spite re­peated re­quests by the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. But the dan­gers in­volved, both from the law and from traf­fick­ing gangs, are pal­pa­ble, ac­cord­ing to Jonathan, who es­ti­mates he has fa­thered about 15 chil­dren as a “stud”. “These (baby traf­fick­ers) can be dan­ger­ous,” said Jonathan, who was once threat­ened by a group of thugs who found out what he was do­ing. “They are ready to kill any­body if you stand in their way.” —Reuters

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