Baby trade booms at hospitals
Shariful Islam and Shaheen Mollah
One can easily buy a newborn babe for a few thousand taka, to keep or abuse as one wishes, at no other place than the downtown Dhaka Medical College Hospital and some clinics in its vicinity.
Every month, some two dozen infants change hands at the country's largest public hospital and the so-called clinics, sources said, adding the buyers in most cases are child-less couples.
The price range, however, is higher for boys than girls, the sources said. Depending on the identity of the parents, and the baby's look and complexion, the price of a girl child varies between Tk 9,000 and Tk 15,000 while that of a male child between Tk 12,000 and Tk 20,000.
Over a hundred DMCH birth attendants and other employees in collusion with some of their relatives have been running the racket for long before the very eyes of the hospital authorities.
A Daily Star investigation revealed about half a dozen two- to three-room unhygienic clinics run by the traffickers in Chankharpool, Nawab Katra, Nazimuddin Road and Hosni Dalan areas are used for the money-spinning trade.
In some cases, the racketeers just broker between the willing sellers and purchasers, and facilitate the delivery of the human goods. Sometimes they even steal babies and deliver them to the customers.
But, in most cases, they persuade poor women coming to the hospital for menstrual regulation (MR) to abstain from abortion, and instead to come to those shoddy clinics and sell their babies secretly for adoption after delivery.
''We try to convince the four to five months pregnant women coming for MR that it's a sin to kill a foetus and to make them agree to sell the babies," said one of the DMCH brokers, who had recently coaxed a pregnant woman into taking admission to a clinic.
If the baby sold is born in a clinic, the lion's share of the proceeds from the sale goes to the clinic owner, with the mother or the parents and the broker sharing the rest. But if the infant is sold from the DMCH, the broker pockets 40 to 50 percent of the money and the mother or parents the rest.
Poor women abandoned by their husbands and ultra-poor couples already having some offspring are more prone to sell their newborn babies. Some poor women who have become pregnant from illicit sexual relations also often opt for selling the unwanted infants.
One such mother is Monwara Begum, 30. Her husband divorced her when she was three months pregnant. After five months, in January 2005, Monwara came to the DMCH seeking an MR. But, soon a birth attendant wooed her to Mousumi Clinic in Nazimuddin Road.
A few months back, when these correspondents went to Mousumi Clinic posing as customers looking for a boy to adopt, a staff named Firoza Begum told them a baby boy could be managed for Tk 12,000.
She also said, "If you want a newborn boy along with his parents' identity, it may take one to four weeks."
Though a middle-aged woman who owns Chowdhury Clinic at Nawab Katra claimed to these correspondents that they were not involved in this 'business', a staff of the clinic seeking anonymity said they could arrange a baby.
A DMCH birth attendant said, "It's not a business, rather we work as mediators to help child-less couples buy a baby for adoption."
On January 3 last, the police recovered two newborn babes from a housewife who claimed to have bought them for Tk 22,000.
She bought one of them from a poor couple of Chanmari Slum in Chashsara of Narayanganj, she told the police, adding the baby's father, Hakil Bepari, is a rickshaw-puller.
The other baby, she said, she bought through Shila, a DMCH special birth attendant.
But, Head of DMCH Gynaecology Department Prof Sayeba Akhter claimed taking infants out of the maternity ward without guardians is strictly prohibited. "In most cases," she said, "the mothers themselves sell their unwanted babies. If mothers sell the babies secretly, what can the authorities do?"
The police apparently are clueless about the fate of the traded babies, whether they are adopted or trafficked.
However, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner SM Mizanur Rahman said, "I don't believe the babies are trafficked abroad." He suspects some DMCH staffs have hands behind these incidents and said they would take necessary measures to stop it.
STOLEN BABY STILL MISSING
Meanwhile, as on 9 last night, the police were yet to find the newborn baby stolen last Friday from a DMCH maternity ward.
A woman allegedly stole two siblings -- eight-year-old Johnny and his five-day-old brother. Johnny somehow managed to escape from captivity at a place in Narayanganj the same evening.
That night, Mahfuza Begum, the mother of the stolen babies, filed a case with Ramna Police Station under the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act.
On information provided by Johnny, a police team along with the boy and his father raided some places in a village under Bandar Police Station in Narayanganj.
Some of the villagers said they saw a veiled woman accompanied by two men coming to the area with a baby, said Sub-Inspector Akhter Morshed who had led the raid.