Baby mills vic­tim­ize vul­ner­a­ble girls, women In­fants taken, sold on black mar­ket

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ALI ABARE ABUBAKAR

ENUGU, NIGE­RIA | Four months preg­nant, Ugwu Christa­bel, a scared 17-yearold from Aku in south­east­ern Nige­ria, looked to the heav­ens for help af­ter her par­ents threw her out of their home.

Then she looked to the Tex Hospi­tal and Ma­ter­nity Home in nearby Enugu, where sin­gle, preg­nant girls some­times go for care un­til they give birth. She didn’t have any­where else to go. “When my boyfriend re­al­ized I was preg­nant, he warned me not to ever men­tion his name, and threat­ened me,” she said. Her par­ents could not stand the shame of their daugh­ter get­ting preg­nant out of wed­lock.

What she thought was a sanc­tu­ary turned out to be what is lo­cally known as a “baby mill,” which de­liv­ers in­fants only to sell them to would-be par­ents on the black mar­ket. Her baby was taken from her and sold against her will.

In Nige­ria, the baby mill industry has be­come a type of child abuse and hu­man traf­fick­ing, say lo­cal of­fi­cials and aid groups. More than 3,000 women and girls be­came vic­tims of baby mills last year, and hun­dreds of peo­ple have been con­victed in the past two years, said Mag­nus Obi, a hu­man rights ac­tivist based in Ow­erri in south­east­ern Nige­ria.

Those who run the baby mills usu­ally lure preg­nant women and girls with prom­ises of shel­ter and med­i­cal help, of­fi­cials said. Some­times, the in­cen­tive is money.

In what UNESCO calls a “more treach­er­ous di­men­sion,” im­pris­oned young women are “forced to sleep with men em­ployed by the baby fac­tory op­er­a­tors to im­preg­nate them. Such ba­bies are traded upon con­cep­tion and a price paid for them in their first few days of post­na­tal life.”

So­ci­etal at­ti­tudes play into the phe­nom­e­non.

Ikechukwu Okafor, a child rights ac­tivist based in Enugu, said the dis­ap­prov­ing at­ti­tudes of par­ents to­ward preg­nant daugh­ters is one rea­son girls seek out such cen­ters.

“Most of these girls are left to live on the streets by par­ents who couldn’t ac­cept that their daugh­ters are preg­nant with­out hus­bands,” he said. “They send them away from home, and such girls are easy prey for un­scrupu­lous per­sons who con­script them into baby fac­to­ries.”

Rig­or­ous adop­tion laws cou­pled with so­ci­etal de­mand for mar­ried cou­ples to have chil­dren — par­tic­u­larly boys be­cause only they can in­herit prop­erty in lo­cal Igbo so­ci­ety — have fu­eled the growth of baby mills in south­east­ern Nige­ria, said Stephen Ezead­ilieje, a lawyer based in Enugu. Igbo is the pre­dom­i­nant tribe in south­east­ern Nige­ria.

Gla­dys Uche of Enugu con­fessed to buy­ing a baby for $2,000 from one of the baby mills out of des­per­a­tion. She blamed her predica­ment on the Igbo tra­di­tion that gives male chil­dren a pref­er­ence over fe­males. She al­ready has a daugh­ter.

“There was so much pres­sure on my hus­band and I to have a male child,” she said. “I bought the child to sat­isfy the de­mand by our ex­tended fam­ily for a male child.” And then there is a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive. “Some of these girls, af­ter re­al­iz­ing they can make some money sell­ing their un­wanted ba­bies, turn it into a hobby, get­ting preg­nant again and again only to sell the ba­bies to will­ing buy­ers,” said Mr. Okafor.

Char­ity Nwanko, 23, who hails from Obosi in south­east­ern Nige­ria, said she has sold three of her new­borns via a baby mill to childless cou­ples be­cause the money helps her live the way she prefers.

“As you can see, I buy ex­pen­sive clothes, jew­elry, and my cos­met­ics don’t come cheap,” she said, point­ing to her out­fit and ac­ces­sories. “Not only that, I sell my ba­bies only to par­ents that can af­ford it, be­liev­ing that my chil­dren would be raised prop­erly and com­fort­ably.”

Vic­tor Og­bonna, an of­fi­cial of the Nige­ria Se­cu­rity and Civil De­fense Corps, a gov­ern­ment agency in­volved in fight­ing the baby mills, said pay to the women is low com­pared with what the ba­bies com­mand from buy­ers.

“Vic­tims were induced to sell a baby boy for $507, while a baby girl goes for $406,” he said. “The sus­pect then re­sells a baby boy for $2,284 and a baby girl for $2,030.”

Al­though some sell their ba­bies vol­un­tar­ily or un­know­ingly, oth­ers are un­will­ing donors and are of­ten held against their will dur­ing their preg­nan­cies.

Sol­diers broke up a no­to­ri­ous baby mill last month in Enugu af­ter a tip from a vic­tim who es­caped the se­cured fa­cil­ity, which was pos­ing as a hospi­tal. Of­fi­cials from the Na­tional Agency for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons said the sol­diers found 10 other preg­nant girls wait­ing to give birth and who were not al­lowed to leave.

The girl who es­caped de­tailed how she was told soon af­ter her birth to take a shower, the anti-traf­fick­ing of­fi­cials said. When she re­turned, her baby was gone. The “nurse” of­fered her roughly $400 and told her that her baby had been given to a cou­ple who could not have chil­dren.

“Any girl who came in would not be al­lowed to go out­side again un­til af­ter de­liv­ery,” said Chichi Uzor, 23, who was res­cued from an­other baby mill, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments from the anti-traf­fick­ing agency.

Chamaka Obi, 17, from Ow­erri in south­east­ern Nige­ria, wanted to keep her baby af­ter giv­ing birth four years ago, but traf­fick­ers and her fa­ther forced her to sell it.

“When I got preg­nant, I went to my fa­ther who is a pas­tor. … At first, he de­manded I get an abor­tion, but I re­fused,” she said. “He then took me to a doc­tor … where I had to stay un­til my baby was de­liv­ered.

“The day [af­ter de­liv­ery], the doc­tor came and snatched the baby out of my arms and gave it to a woman. … She took off in a red car with my baby,” she said.

The woman would later be im­pli­cated in 18 cases of baby traf­fick­ing.

When Chamaka came home af­ter the de­liv­ery, her fa­ther gave her a new cell­phone as com­pen­sa­tion.

“I later found out that he had bought it with the money he got for my daugh­ter,” she said, hold­ing back tears. “I don’t want a phone; I want my child.”

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