Despite steps taken by several agencies and the federal government to stamp out child and human trafficking in the country, the illicit trade is still thriving and booming, reports Ohia Israel
Babies are supposed to be gifts from God and no doubt a precious one for that matter. However, these rare and precious gifts from God are now being sold by some dodgy Nigerians for a variety of motives. This paper gathered that way back in 2000 when this trend started, an NGO raised the alarm and told the nation that babies were being exchanged for cash and that there were a number of hospitals involved. Despite several steps taken it has continued unabated.
According to our usually reliable sources, girls between the ages of 15 and 17 years are locked up and used to ‘produce’ babies, then allegedly sold for rituals, witchcraft purposes or adoption. UNICEF estimates that at least no fewer than 10 children are sold daily across Nigeria. This estimation is on target. The sale of children is a painful and unfortunate reality in Nigeria, particularly in south-eastern Nigeria, where this practice is not new. The sale of babies has been going on for some time. But bad governance, corruption in the police, failure of human rights, lack of the rule of law, selfishness and hypocrisy have all made it difficult and dangerous to tackle and address these atrocities. The babies that are sold are often those delivered by teenagers or those of the so called ‘higher caste’ girls whose fathers are from the ‘lower caste’. This is happening in a region where teenage pregnancy is regarded as a taboo and many girls, who get pregnant, resort to unsafe abortion or outright throwing away their babies after delivery.
Before now, many girls who became pregnant preferred unsafe abortions with quacks – which often led to their deaths or to some irreparable health damage – or they threw away the babies after delivery, instead of giving birth and keeping children who would be ostracized and treated as ‘bastards’ and outcasts in the communities. But today the trend has changed. Teenage pregnancy is no longer such an abomination. Teenage pregnancy is now a big deal and a thriving business. Teenage pregnancy is an income-generating scheme for some unscrupulous elements, syndicates and rings which sadly include the parents of these girls. This illicit trade has many dimensions involving childless couples and individuals who take to rituals.
In some cases, some childless couples and their scouts prowl the villages and rural communities looking for girls with unwanted pregnancies whom they would pay peanuts to have their babies after delivery. As soon as they track down any girl who is pregnant, they provide her and her family with some money – an advance payment – and gifts, and encourage her to keep the pregnancy and not to abort it. This is after they had agreed on the price of the baby with the parents of the girl. In most cases some middlemen are involved in the negotiation of prices, and they receive some commission at the end of the business. Usually, male babies cost more than female. The prices of babies range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the bargaining power of both parties and the middlemen.
Another dimension involves the hospitals and clinics. Unfortunately many hospitals in the region have become ‘baby farms’. Some smart ‘childless couples’ now connive with hospital authorities to buy babies after delivery. These babies could be those whose mothers died in the course of delivery or ‘unwanted’ babies of girls who became pregnant by chance – or those commissioned to carry such pregnancies at a fee like the girls recently rescued by the police. There have been cases where some doctors and nurses reportedly claimed that some babies died immediately after delivery, while in fact, they stole and sold the babies as soon as they were delivered.
Keen watchers believe that the discovery of the baby farms in south-eastern Nigeria is a clear indication of social and moral rot in the society. It is hoped that this trend however with the setting up of National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), the evil act which has become a recurring act in the country today should stop. The baby factory business we learnt is fast spreading to the South-south of the country.
Recently in Akwa Ibom state, the Nigeria police was reported to have raided an illegal orphanage where they rescued young women thought to have been forced to bear children with the aim of selling them. According to the ASP, “We discovered the baby factory in Uruah Local Government area of the state during a raid following a tip-off.”
The ASP went on to say that seven women between the ages of 18 and 20, including three who were pregnant, were freed from the home during the April 4 operation. No babies were discovered. Three suspects including the owner, his wife and another accomplice were arrested.
“The suspects usually lure young girls to get pregnant with a promise of 70,000 naira ($445) after having their babies, which they sell to ritualists,” he said.
A number of such “factories” have been discovered in Nigeria, some operating with the intention of selling the children to childless couples. One of the young mothers said that she had contacted the owner of the home with the intention of having an abortion but he had convinced her to stay until she gave birth. “The doctor gave me 70,000 naira and the baby was taken away from me right after I gave birth,” she said.
In another incident in 2008 a network of baby factories, which claimed to be orphanages, was busted by police raid. It will be recalled that in May 2008 20 teenage girls were also rescued by the Police in Enugu then, in this case teenage girls with unwanted pregnancies, were locked up in a two storey building as the Doctor in charge lured them with the offer to help them with abortion. However, they were kept there and deceived until they gave birth whereupon they were being forced to sale the babies for N20, 000. Then these babies were sold to buyers for N300, 000 and N450, 000 each, according to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
In another case in 2011, men and officers of the Nigeria Police also raided two hospitals where thirty-two pregnant girls were rescued in Aba, Abia State from a hospital known as ‘The Cross Foundation’. In same Abia State, another clinic was raided, this time it was ‘Double Research Clinic and Laboratory’ at Iheoji Mgboko in Obingwa LGA, which is said to be run by one Mr. John Onyemachi, a lab scientist. However the Abia scenario became more pronounced to the extent that a childless Yoruba lady, who had married for five years, facing family discomforts, was told by her lady friend of a baby factory in Aba, Abia State and the lady went to Aba, met the owners of the baby market and was asked to pay N2m for a male child. She was also given some medicines which made her look pregnant. Her husband thought she was pregnant. Towards the time of delivery, she told her husband she was travelling abroad to have the baby. But she went to Aba where a baby boy was handed over to her after paying the full amount. She returned to Lagos and lived with her husband with the child. The man thought the boy was his.
In another scenario, in 2007, the proprietor of the ‘The Cross Foundation’, Dr Hycinth Orikara, 1988 University of Nigeria, Nsukka graduate, began his illegal business in Port Harcourt, Rivers State before relocating to Aba after a botched prosecution following an earlier trial for similar crime. Also in another case, in the same 2007 the same Orikara had been arrested for a similar crime alongside one Mrs Ayodele Okeke at 10 Woji Street, Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The business of Orikara was to recommend pregnant girls to Ayodele. The police charged Orikara to court for child trafficking and running an illegal clinic but did not have a solid case against him and consequently lost the matter in court. The medical doctor was set free and he went to Aba to continue his illegal business.
Another baby farm was busted by the police in Okigwe, Imo State. The place called Ayodele Omosuyi Natural Clinic is said to be a refuge for those seeking babies. Its walls, like those in Aba, Port Harcourt and Enugu, are high enough to hide the activities of the baby factory, where women, pretending to be heavily pregnant, are delivered of their ‘babies’ at a high cost. The cost for the babies can get to as much as N1 million, male babies N500, 000, females between N350, 000 and N450, 000 and they collect cash not cheque. The owner of this particular baby factory was one Mrs. Ayodele Omosuyi, popularly known as Iyawo in the community. It was close to Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, also close to Aba. However, it was observed that the Police were aware but could not do anything until NAPTIP, using soldiers stormed the place. Decayed human bodies that had turned into skeletons were among the things allegedly discovered during the raid. NAPTIP suspects that some of the children and even adults might have been used for rituals at the clinic. It is said that people from all places with exotic cars, some with Federal Government number plates, among other numbers, visited the woman, and described as very powerful.
Just like in other south Eastern states, Anambara is not an exception, as in 2011 over 51 illegal orphanages were discovered in Nkpor and Awada in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State. This discovery was made possible through a foray by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in collaboration with the State Police Command. While in the same state, in the same year the proprietress of Divine Mercy Motherless Babies Home Obosi, Lady Ifeoma Okolo, allegedly escaped arrest as police raided the home in connection with alleged child trafficking. A total of 8 babies and 20 pregnant young girls were found there.
The State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development also in collaboration with the police also busted another case of baby farming at a home located at Enic Foam road with a very big warehouse. The building has several rooms. In the decrepit rooms were 20 young pregnant girls waiting to deliver their babies for sale.
Investigation had it that one Miracle, a three year old boy was already sold at N400, 000 to a woman who was desperately looking for a baby boy. Ifeoma however defaulted in delivering the boy to her client even after she had collected the amount both parties agreed upon. That was to mark the genesis of the problem of the home. When contacted on phone, Lady Ifeoma Okolo said she went to the hospital with the 5 babies (initially at Nkpor but later Onitsha) but did not say anything about the pregnant girls harboured there.
A source at the scene confided to the press then that the home takes care of pregnant young girls and about 12 of them were there as at last week she visited and a good number of babies present. She claimed that the home specializes in selling babies to baby seekers.
However, a woman (name withheld) who hails from Enugu State, confessed to buying a baby from the home at the cost of over N400, 000, praying that she be forgiven as she was not the only one that engaged in that even as she blamed her predicament on a protracted quest for a baby boy. She argued that in Igbo land a family without a baby boy was not regarded, explaining that she had given birth to a baby girl. She denied ever thinking of using the child for ritual.
This paper learnt though it is rampant in the South-East and south-south, as it also happens in Lagos for instance in 2005, in a street named Janet Fajemigbesin Street, in Amuwo Odofin, behind old Durbar Hotel-near Festac, Lagos, teenage girls charge N150,000 and N200,000 per baby. Twins sell for N450, 000. The boys who impregnate the girls are paid N10,000 to N20,000, while also in Lekki, one Mrs. Theresa Marques, 84, owner of an orphanage, sold babies for N100,000, N200,000.
In 2005, a Lagos-based orphanage suspected of ties to child trafficking network was shut down. This paper found out that the illicit baby business owners have fashioned out a new mode of operation; most operators of such businesses now register them as Non Governmental Organisations and sometimes orphanages.
DESERT HERALD also learnt that it is difficult to run a baby factory without the backing of law enforcement agents. Apart from being well connected to various seats of power in the country, checks revealed that successful operators of baby factories are generous to law enforcement agents. An observer said “as long as they grease the necessary palms, they are covered”. As it is today buying or selling babies is illegal in Nigeria and can carry a 14-year jail term. However, the perpetrators of this illicit act have continued with reckless abandon.