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Upsurge in baby factories, sale of infants raises concerns

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PHOTO: SABC

• Baby Boy Sells For Between N900, 000 And N1.5million, While Girl Goes For N800
Undoubtedly, there is an upsurge in baby factories in the South-South and Southeast of the country. Sale of infants appears to be a booming business in the two regions, with traffickers network within zones cashing in on what is now a lucrative trade.

The babies are usually sold to either childless couples or ritualists, with prices depending their gender. While a baby boy is given out for between N900, 000 and N1.5million, the girl goes for N800, 000 and below.

But it was a different case during the pandemic, as desperate couples and teenage mothers sold at any going prices just to get money to survive.

Findings revealed that some common reasons sale of babies is on the rise in Rivers State, for example, is because of rigid social norms. Here, some women want people to feel they are pregnant before getting their baby and as such, do anything to buy a toddler after pretending to be pregnant for nine months.

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Further findings exposed the fact that adopted children are not allowed to inherit parents’ properties by some tribes, which now pushes women to patronise traffickers with a cover that they were pregnant and birthed the babies.

Perhaps, most significantly, the surge in baby trafficking is also blamed on the cumbersome processes involved in legal adoption of children, among others.

The Guardian’s investigations revealed that the state Ministry of Social Welfare, which is in charge of Port Harcourt Children’s Home, ensures that applicants adhere strictly to the laws before a child is given to them.

For instance, if a childless couple applies for a baby, the staff of the ministry would visit the applicant’s home to ascertain if they are economically balanced to bring up the child. The applicants must also be at least 25 years old and above.

Fulfillment of these conditions, however, does not give 100 per cent guarantee, as one could still not receive a baby. The Guardian findings revealed that about 30 babies were in the Port Harcourt Children’s Home, some of who have holes in their hearts and or other life-threatening diseases.

It was also gathered that only about three healthy babies were received in the last six months, while over 50 applications were received, thereby rendering the chances of getting babies very slim for most applicants.

It was also discovered that the attitude of some workers of the home contributed to the spike in sales of babies. A very reliable source in the home, who craved anonymity, said: “The misbehaviour of those in the Home and the ministry contributes to this ugly situation by giving out the babies to the highest bidder or the wealthy who can release any amount they are charged, instead of on first come, first serve basis.”

Confirming this development, a childless lady, simply identified as Mrs. Rita, who applied for a baby last year, said: “Some of the workers give the babies to those who are in position of power to get money and favour. Some of these people already have babies, but are looking for male or female children; hence the workers continue to deny genuine baby seekers who have no money.”

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It was gathered that if a wealthy childless couple want to have ‘big child naming ceremonies/child dedication,’ the wife would take some injections that make her stomach to protrude as if she was pregnant, in agreement with a midwife, who gives her a date she would claim she was in labour, while some would request a ‘cut’ at the private part to serve as proof of having the babies themselves and at the end, the nurse would bring a baby delivered by a willing sellers and give to them after payment is made.

Some baby traffickers also disguise as clergy and caregivers, using the name of their church/ministry to shelter pregnant teenagers, sell their babies afterwards and discharge them with N30, 000 to N40, 000 cash gift.

These days, people do bizarre things to procure babies to enrich themselves or for rituals purposes. On August 17, 2020, mother of a six-month-old baby was beaten and chest matched before being thrown into a septic tank in an uncompleted building by a baby trafficker, who whisked her baby away to sell.

The helpless woman spent three days in the pit before she was discovered and rescued by security men and residents, while the abductor was arrested at Omerelu on his way to Imo State to sell the baby.

In the same vein, on August 11, Success Ugochukwu and Rejoice Ugochukwu were paraded by the state Police Command for selling their one-day-old baby boy for N900, 000. The sum of N 600,000 had already been paid before they were arrested with five other syndicates.

Another couple, Chidi and Maureen Martins, was apprehended at a church in the Rumuolumili area of Port Harcourt on July 4 for operating a baby factory, where three newborns, their mothers and three pregnant teenagers were reportedly found.

Yet, another couple waiting to take away the two babies were also arrested by operatives of Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT).

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In March this year, a lady was nabbed around Garrison Junction in Port Harcourt City Council with a baby in a sack, while on February 24, the state Police Command busted a baby factory in Port Harcourt and recovered 24 babies and four pregnant mothers.

On February 27, the Command arrested five women at Rumokwuta junction in the capital city for alleged involvement in trading in babies. The confessional statements of one of the suspect, Roseline Nwokocha, who was arrested with N1.1million cash, revealed that she came Umuahia to buy the baby.

On August 20, a Magistrate’s Court in Port Harcourt sentenced 49-year-old United States-based Nigerian woman to 10 years in prison for buying three babies and claiming she birthed them. These are just few cases among others.

Reacting to the cumbersome process of adoption of babies, Commissioner for Social Welfare, Mrs. Inime Aguma, said: “The law is very clear in adoption; when you satisfy all these things, then we can give you the child and then monitor you.

“There are processes in adoption; we have the full legal team, of course, there are several applications, but you know, we don’t manufacture babies.”

She reiterated: “I have up to 30 babies in the Children’s Home, but I cannot give them out because of some issues. I cannot give someone a child with a hole in the heart or a child that is challenged. No, I cannot do that,” she noted.

On his part, Consultant Pediatrician and Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Oasis Children Specialist Hospital, Dr. Appollus Josiah, said non-acceptance of children by some tribes to inherit the parents’ properties has been known to push women to patronise traffickers with a cover that they were pregnant and birthed the babies.

Aguma agreed, saying, “It will be difficult to eradicate illegal trafficking because of the mindset of people and some of our social norms. People these days want others to feel they are pregnant before getting a baby.”

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In reaction to the upsurge in baby sales and rigid process of adoption, some residents have called for a review of the adoption law.

A social media influencer, Faustina Teena, said: “If the seller is not coerced or manipulated to give out the baby for adoption, the new parents shouldn’t be exposed to ridicule and humiliation.

“It is better to give out these children for adoption than allow them rot and die of starvation.”

Veteran journalist, Mr. Ignatius Chukwu, wrote: “I support the middlemen or women to adopt babies, if not for rituals. The evil person is one who rejects his or her baby.”

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Also, Paul Bazie, said: “With society always blaming of childlessness on women, the laws on adoption should be looked into.”

Some childless couples who do not want to be mentioned described life as unfair, lamenting that despite pressures from in-laws and relatives, when one makes effort to take care of children from those who do not need it, she is humiliated.

Meanwhile, the Rivers State Police Command confirmed an increase in child trafficking this year. Human trafficking, especially sale of babies, has taken different dimensions since the COVID -19 pandemic. Previously, brokers, also known as the mediators, search for childless couples, get their consent and arrange babies for them through baby factories or baby theft.

Scammers have also moved into the system, with Police collaboration, thereby defrauding childless couples. The Guardian’s investigations revealed that now, scammers search for childless couples, lure them to buy babies between N600, 000 and N1million and when the said amount is transferred to the trafficker, he/she alerts the security personnel, who swiftly wade in and threaten the suspect to forget the money and or risk being arrested. Thereafter, the security agents return to share the money with the scammers, as confirmed by a victim, Mrs. Nneka Ibe.

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