Tajik women who buy and sell babies
January 28, 2009 / BBC News, Tajikistan
Fifty-year-old Mahbuba has four sons, but she always wanted to have a daughter.
Faced with a complex adoption procedure, she decided to take the easier option - to buy a baby.
"The moment I heard that a woman in a maternity hospital was selling her newborn daughter, I rushed there," Mahbuba said.
"The woman told me she already had five children and she could not afford having another baby. I paid her $100 [£67]."
Her purchase was made 10 years ago. But buying and selling babies is still common in Tajikistan - and it all begins in maternity hospitals.
Some mothers abandon their babies just days after giving birth, leaving the fate of the children in the hands of medical staff.
A young Tajik nurse described how she witnessed doctors helping a woman whose child died at birth to obtain a newborn from a different hospital.
She was not sure whether money was involved in this swap.
"They just wanted to help," said the nurse.
But in Tajikistan, such goodwill could be punished with up to eight years in prison.
In 2008, there were 13 such cases but the number of those involved in trafficking is believed to be much higher.
Some 60km (37 miles) west of Dushanbe in Tursunzoda district, I met two midwives accused of selling a baby boy for $200.
They are currently on a suspended two-year sentence.
Both in their late 40s, they have been working in a maternity hospital for over 20 years.
"If only I knew," said one of them, wiping tears from her eyes.
"I fed that child and was looking after him for one month. They did give me money but I didn't ask for it. They slipped the money to my pocket," she said.
"Trafficking in minors is a problem and it still exists," said Azimjon Ibragimov, who heads the Interior Ministry's department on human trafficking.
"Those who buy are usually childless couples. And since the legal procedure of adopting a child is complicated people find it much easier to buy a baby," he said.
"But most of them don't know what the legal implications of this crime are," he added.
Even those aware of the risks often feel they have no choice but to get rid of unwanted children.
Many such cases involve young mothers of illegitimate children.
In conservative Tajikistan, having a child out of wedlock can bring shame on a family.
But increasingly older women with existing families are also selling their children.
In the poorest nation in Central Asia, fathers often work abroad, and the burden of child-care rests with the women.
Some simply cannot afford to feed any extra mouths.
"The main problem which makes our women suffer is that their husbands are gone for work," said Muhabbat Pirnazarova, who heads the centre for civil society.
"They leave their families behind. Some men do send money back home but there are also those who abandon their families altogether," she said.
Cash for babies is a fact of life in Tajikistan.
This is a society where the economic conditions leave some mothers with little choice.
Others who have illegitimate children face social pressure to give them up.
And where the adoption procedure is complicated and lengthy, childless couples will do what they can to obtain a baby.