Menace Of Baby Merchants Syndicate In Akwa Ibom

— Aug 31, 2014 | 1 Comment

Children are a blessing from God, but in some parts of Nigeria today, children have become a form of commodity bought from the factory, and only those with good money can purchase them. Akwa Ibom is in the spotlight of being a destination for busting illegal baby racketing in recent times. Bernard Tolani Dada, Uyo, writes

The obnoxious racketing of babies which has now assumed a frightening proportion in the country has finally arrived in Akwa Ibom State.

Before now, dumping of babies was a commonplace in the state, while people with dubious business motives saw it as a means of exploiting childless couples and make money. But today, another dimension has been added to the illegal trade, and the word “baby factory” is now in vogue; where young girls are forced to be impregnated and their babies offered for sale after delivery.

Most baby factories are usually disguised as maternity, orphanage or social welfare homes, or in most times, they are run as clinics or prayer houses. These “baby factories” are operated by well-organised syndicates nationwide.

The first case of “baby factory” in Nigeria was officially reported in 2006 by UNESCO, while specifically referring to Abia, Edo, Ebonyi and Lagos states.

Pregnant teenagers and adult women with unwanted pregnancies approached doctors, clinics, nurses or orphanages that subsequently took care of these girls and women during their pregnancies. The natural mothers of these babies only received monetary compensation ranging from N30,000 to N500,000.

Since 2006, reported cases of “baby factories” in the country increased drastically with new facts emerging about this phenomenon being a core element of human trafficking.

According to Akwa Ibom police command few months back, the police arrested five persons suspected to be involved in this illegal activity at a local clinic located in Ikot Ekpene local government area of the state.

The state commissioner of police, Umar Gwadabe, who made the disclosure while parading the suspects at the police headquarters in Ikot Akpan Abia in Uyo, explained that seven expectant mothers and some children were rescued in the clinic. Few days before, men of the Department of Security Service (DSS) in Akwa Ibom had paraded 20 suspected child thieves, including a reverend father who claimed that he bought two babies from a motherless baby home.

According to the state deputy director of DSS, Mr Fubara Duke, the Catholic priest, Rev. Father Okono Joseph, of St. Peters Parish of Owerri Catholic Diocese, Imo State, was arrested for buying two boys for N450,000 each. The man of God, he said, bought the babies from an agent sponsored by one Chief Uche Joel Canice Onyekedru from Ogiri in Imo State.

Those also paraded included Mercy Okon Etim, Collins Monday Edet, Caroline Nkwonna, Cecilla Ngozi Ngene, Eleka Okoye, Nwaonu Cosmas Okoro, Adaobi Onyeke, Elizabeth, Onubogu, Amaka Umeh, Ebele Nwadika Flowrence Onyodobi Emenka Anaefuna, Nnamdi Onuchukwu Ifeoma Gladys Nweze, Chiyneyen Roseline Idam Vivian Ogbona and David Ogbuagu.

The DSS also disclosed that in the last eight months, over 60 children had been sold off by the criminals in the state, adding that the leader of the syndicate, Chief Uche Joel, who could not remember the number of children he had sold, usually operated in conjunction with agents who liaised with some government officials in children homes and maternity hospitals.

Just last week, the Akwa Ibom state command of the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps   uncovered yet another “baby factory” in Ekparakwa in Oruk Annam local government area, where over 18 suspects were arrested, and 18 pregnant young girls and three babies were rescued.

Prior to this discovery, few months back, over 16 babies and 25 teenage girls were said to have been rescued from another baby factory operating as a clinic in Onna.

The state NCDSC commandant, Mr Pedro Ideba, said that following a tip, his men had stormed the factory which had been operating for several years, and rescued young women, aged between 16 and 25 years. Eighteen suspects were also arrested and taken for questioning.

According to Ideba, the young girls were recruited to sleep with men in the ramshackle clinic to produce babies who would later be sold out to prospective customers.

While speaking on the issue, the public relations officer of the state command, Mr Ime White, said the raid operation was done with clinical precision in conjunction with officials from the state Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and NAPTIP. “We asked them to come with us for the operation and to understand the heinous crime being committed by these operators of illegal clinics,” White said, continuing that, “The clinic itself was located in a remote village amid degrading dirty and unhygienic environment, and immediately the suspects were arrested and brought to Uyo they were all handed over to the ministry of women affairs for necessary action after interviewing them.”

According to him, the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP) were expected to receive the girls, carry out further investigations into the matter and prosecute them.

According to one of the suspects, who did not give out her name, each baby was sold for N400,000. She also confessed that she ran the business with her husband, who is currently at large, adding that young women came to the factory sometimes already pregnant, and where accommodated for the duration of the pregnancy till the babies were sold.

“We sold each baby for N400,000. We sold the babies to those who had no child and came to us for one. Even barren women with their husbands usually patronized us. In the last one year, we have sold over 50 babies,” she confessed.

One of the young women claimed that she was impregnated by her boyfriend who later abandoned her. She said she became dejected as she was an orphan and was brought to the factory by a man who she could not identify or locate.

The youngest of the victims, a 16-year-old JSS3 student, said she was a school dropout and that she got pregnant while hawking oranges for a woman and was brought to the clinic by a stranger she could no longer identify.

However, a source told LEADERSHIP Sunday that boys were brought into the centre to make love to some of the girls. Those who introduced the girls went home with cash, depending on the stage of the pregnancy at the time of arrival.

If a girl is less than four months pregnant, the person who introduced such girls to the hospital got N15,000, but if the pregnancy is five months and above, the person would be rewarded with N17,000. And when a girl delivered safely, she would be paid off with a sum of money ranging from N40,000 to N50,000, and thereafter, the baby would be sold for N400,000. Sex-defined price tags also existed, with the price of a female child going for between N300,000 and N350,000, while a male child between N350,000 and N400,000.

So, while the “social mothers”, as they are known, are made to believe that their babies would be put up for adoption by willing foster parents, with the prospect of a guaranteed future, the fact remains that they are mere money spinners for the doctors. However, to create a semblance of a legitimate transaction, the baby merchants brandish phony documents in the transaction.

The source hinted that even at these makeshift clinics, the rate of deaths is high, attributing it to poor and inadequate medical attention. And because of the pricing formula, based on the sex of the babies, a lady who operates a scan centre revealed that girls whose tests showed they were carrying boys got better medical attention, because the “product/commodity” would attract more money. LEADERSHIP Sunday was not however told how the corpses of dead babies were discarded.

A former staff of the clinic, who pleaded anonymity, alleged that the workers were usually made to take compulsory oath of secrecy by swearing to a juju (local deity)not to divulge any information about the place to anyone, no matter the circumstances.

While speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, the head of NAPTIP in Akwa Ibom said the organisation was working on some of the cases brought to it by the police, the NSCDC and other teenage camp centres in the state.

The NAPTIP chief explained that nothing would stop the agency from putting a stop to the illegal and criminal trade. “We know he sells babies in the name of adoption. There are reports of so many other areas where babies are sold in the state. We are investigating them. It is assuming an alarming proportion and NAPTIP is not taking it lightly.”

She argued that the illegal baby trade is booming because of the high profit in the business and low risk, while volunteering that the agency was determined to nip it in the bud.

So many reasons have been given for the upsurge in the business. Mr Okon Edet, an itinerant preacher in Uyo, attributed the case of baby factories to poverty, saying that poverty is the major factor causing teenage pregnancy in the society. According to him, most families find it difficult to feed three times a day, and as a result, they lose control of their children. Peer pressure also lures them into social vices including unwanted pregnancy.

“As a preacher, I have observed that teenagers become uncontrollable at a particular stage of their lives, and it takes the true concentration of parents to notice this and re-direct them; because once they are not put right at this stage, it is finished,” he said.

Culled from Leadership Newspaper

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