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Akunna Ejim, 14 July, 2008
Recently, the media have been replete with unsavory stories of so-called “baby farms” where girls, and indeed women are kept illegally for the sole purpose of breeding for profit. It boggles the mind of any right-thinking person that anyone would engage in the act of buying and selling of innocent lives, more especially, infants who are so tender as to inspire the protective instinct. That mothers would willingly, in some cases, hand over the fruit of their wombs for money, without any care as to the ultimate fate of their child is a sad testament to the sort of world we live in today.
All over the place, suddenly, such places where babies are ‘farmed’ are being unearthed. In Enugu, Umuahia, Abakiliki, and so on, the police have busted illegal baby breeding sites. These of course are just a tip of the iceberg, because many more of these places exist that haven’t been exposed yet. But why is this practice so widespread, what are the authorities doing to combat it and what laws are in place to address the issue?
Section 50 of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 of Nigeria defines trafficking as including:
“…all acts and attempted acts involved in the recruitment, transportation within or across Nigerian borders, purchase, sale, transfer, receipt or harbouring of a person involving the use of deception, coercion or debt bondage for the purpose of placing or holding the person whether for or not involving servitude (domestic, sexual or reproductive) in force or bonded labour, or in slavery-like conditions.”
The above definition is drawn largely from the definition in Article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children. Before the enactment of the Anti-trafficking Law some provisions existed in various legislations including:
· The Childs Rights Act (Cap 198) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria which criminalises exploitative child labour and other forms of child abuse hitherto left unpunished by the Criminal Codes.
· The Criminal Code ( Sections 222A, 223, 224, 225A, 227, 365, and 369)
· The 1999 Constitution (Sections 34, 35, and 41)
· The Penal Code (Sections 270, 271, 272, 275, 277, 278, 280, and 281)
In 2003, the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act was signed into law. The law tackles the issue of trafficking and establishes the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP).
NAPTIP has been charged with the task of enforcing laws against trafficking in persons. It also investigates and prosecutes persons whom it has reason to suspect are engaged in human trafficking.
Most of government Acts against human trafficking do not address the root cause of the reason why people engage in the practice. Although there is no excuse for such a heinous act, there do exist some circumstances that might make those so predisposed more willing to engage in the act. They include:
· A DECLINE IN THE VALUE SYSTEM – Immorality is quite rampant, which in turn leads to young people bearing children out of wedlock and consequently looking for ways to dispose of such children they are obviously not ready to cater for. Most of the females involved in the baby-breeding are young women. That in itself is very telling and a pointer as to where the government and society should focus some of their attention—the very young.
· GET RICH QUICK SYNROME – In Nigeria, ritual is quite rampant. In some of these cases involving the sale of babies, we have heard of ritualists patronising such places. These children are used in money-making rituals for those eager to become rich overnight, or other nefarious purposes. That is the scariest part of the whole matter.
· HARDHIP/INSECURITY – Because things are so hard in the country, a place where a whole family lives on less than $2 a day, suffering in the midst of plenty, the urge to do anything to survive would surely become more manifest, including the sale of babies for financial recompense, which in most cases is just a pittance.
· CHILDLESS COUPLES – Some people genuinely want to have children of their own, and where this fails, they go the adoption route. The red-tape involved in the official adoption process might make them seek alternative means of fulfilling their hopes of becoming parents, including purchasing babies from shady characters.
· WELFARE FRAUD SCHEMES – In order to take undue and indeed, criminal advantage of welfare benefits in some parts of the world, especially Europe, some people buy children and take them abroad in order to claim some kind of benefit by virtue of being a parent. Such was the case recently in London when a woman bought a baby in Nigeria and tried to pass it off as her own in order to claim a council flat.
The laws that exist are inadequate because they are neither comprehensive nor punitive enough. No right-thinking individual would dare engage in drug-trafficking in China or Indonesia, knowing very well what the consequences would be. While I am not in total support of capital punishment, it has to be said that those who sell other human beings, even to the point of selling babies to ritualists, deserve the highest punishment to serve as a deterrent to others
People need to cooperate with the authorities to expose these charlatans. How can someone, as was the case in Enugu, be engaged in such a practice for 20 years and people claim not to be aware? It’s very sad. Perhaps, with more effort on the part of all concerned, this evil practice can be checked. Those who sell other human beings, even to the point of selling babies to ritualists, deserve the highest punishment to serve as a deterrent to others.
•Ejim is a lawyer and international writer based in Lagos.