In this report, NIYI ODEBODE, ADELANI ADEPEGBA and ADEMOLA ONI explain how many private maternity centres and hospitals are being used as markets where babies are traded like common commodities.
With her position as a deaconess in a pentecostal church at Uwani, Enugu, one cannot imagine that she could be into such an illicit business. When one of our correspondents met with her at Garki area of the ‘coal city,’ where she operates a maternity home, her dressing gave an impression that she was a very virtuous person. She wore clothes that properly covered ‘essential parts’ of her body.
Before the meeting at the maternity home late last month, a source had told one of our correspondents that the woman assisted a 16-year-old girl in selling her baby. Investigations showed that the girl’s parents, who were respected members of a pentecostal church in Imo State, had approached the “midwife.” The source said, “The parents instructed the woman to sell the baby to avoid the embarrassment of their daughter having a baby out of wedlock.”
Our correspondent went to the deaconess and posed as a childless married man in need of a baby. Although the woman initially pretended that she was not dealing in babies, she later gave a positive response when our correspondent said he was ready to pay any price.
The deaconess is not the only person engaging in this illegal business. Investigations show that sale of babies is rampant in many Nigerian cities. Our correspondents learnt that mostly affected were under-aged women and commercial sex workers who got pregnant in the course of their work and could not abort the pregnancies for one reason or the other.
One area where the business thrives is Ugwuaji village, a community about 10 minutes drive from Enugu. Investigations showed that the community was a fertile ground for child trafficking as well as a refuge for unmarried pregnant girls.
Findings showed that many unmarried pregnant girls from Enugu metropolis thronged the community to avoid public shame in the city. A source said, “They go there to hide and after delivery they contact kingpins of the business who assist them in selling the babies.”
Investigations showed that the kingpins bought each baby from the girls for as low as N70,000. The kingpins sell a male infant to childless couples for N340,000 and a female at N300,000.
A woman, who pleaded anonymity, said she once bought a set of twins from a medical doctor for N340,000. According to her, the twins later died of congenital heart problems.
When contacted, officials of the Department of Social Welfare, claimed ignorance of the upsurge in sales of babies. They said the process of adoption was clear. According to them, the couples that want to adopt babies don’t need to pay for them.
The trade is not restricted to Enugu alone. Findings showed that some commercial sex workers in Lagos State were fond of selling or throwing away babies, whose pregnancies they could not abort. The vice-president of a non-governmental organisation based in Lagos, Parenthood Federation International, Mrs. Deborah Osikoya, blamed the problem on poor upbringing.
The woman, who runs a private school at Ajah area of Lagos State, confirmed that a commercial sex worker, had once attempted to dump her baby in her school.
She said a commercial sex worker once came to her school. Osikoya said, “She said that she heard that we could take care of the baby here (in the school). I asked her who told her so. She said she would go and dump the child somewhere, saying she did not love the baby.
“At that point, I told her that I would give her a job in order to take care of the child. I said I had never adopted a baby. She said she could not take the job. She left with the baby. She came back the second time. I became afraid that she could kill the baby. I took the baby and told her to come from time to time to check the baby.
“When the baby grew up, she would come and take the child to go and beg; and for social parties. When the child came back she would say I had four fathers. Whenever she went with the child and came back, we would start re-training the small girl all over again.
“One day, she came and took the child away. We were not around but she left a message that she had found the father and the grandmother. That was last year. The child was about four years old. After about three months, she brought the child back. I guessed she wanted to sell the child, but did not get a good bargain.”
The vice-president stated that the woman came back again to take the child. “She said she had got a job. She said she would be able to take care of the child,” Osikoya added.
The school proprietress advocated proper parenting. She attributed increase in teenage pregnancies to poor home training. “Some of these girls are products of broken homes. We should place emphasis on home training,” she added.
There has been an increase in trafficking in infants since the beginning of this year. Previously, the trade was restricted to children aged five years and above. A medical doctor, Dr. Ken Akunne, is standing trial at a Federal High Court, Enugu for child trafficking.
The men of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps rescued about 20 pregnant girls, whose ages ranged from 16 to 22 years, from Akunne’s maternity home last month. Akunne, who has been running the clinic since 1999, claimed that it was a registered foster home established to get babies for childless couples, who wanted to adopt them.
A woman that was arrested for child trafficking, Benedicta Agwuocha, told the NSCDC officers that she bought a male child from the doctor at N340,000. Akunne denied the allegation. He said he was giving the children for adoption.
Also two months ago, an 80-year-old grandmother was paraded by the police for alleged child trafficking. The police paraded Grace Erondu in Abuja. She was accused of harbouring 13 girls aged between 19 and 26 years in Umuahia, Abia State. Two of them had been delivered of babies, while 11 were still pregnant.
One of the pregnant girls, Mary Ibe, claimed that the person that directed her to the woman said the octogenarian would provide doctors and nurses who would take care of her.
Commenting on the problem, the Ogun State Commissioner for Women and Social Welfare, Miss Jokotade Odunuga, said the state had been ensuring strict supervision of orphanages to prevent child trafficking.
According to her, the process of adoption is strict to allow room for verification of facts relating to couples seeking to adopt a child. The verification, she said, would allow the ministry to have an insight into the personality of the person that wanted to adopt a child.
“After applying through the ministry, we ensure that we ascertain the information on the individual. We have to know the environment where the baby is to be taken to. The history of the person and the reason for adoption must be ascertained before such an application is approved or rejected,” she added.
The Chairman of the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Babafemi Thomas, attributed the problem of booming sales of babies to quackery. “The problem is that there are many people who pretend to be doctors,” he said.
He said the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria had been ensuring discipline in the medical profession. According to him, any erring doctor will face disciplinary actions, including prosecution.
The Head of Media and Communications of NAPTIS, Mr. Arinze Orakwue, in an interview, said there was the need for ministries of health across the country to ensure regular supervision of clinics and hospitals.
According to him, it is not enough for the ministries to issue licence to the hospitals. Orankwue, whose agency recently raided a hotel at Ogba, Lagos, said government must ensure that the hospitals were monitored.