By Josephine Agbonkhese, Anino Aganbi & Chris Onuoha
ABOVE are some very upsetting, yet reoccurring news headlines read almost on a regular basis. The proliferation of baby factories in the country is so much on a steady rise that the efforts of security operatives at addressing the menace by bursting different rings in different parts of the country, from time to time, seem almost ineffective.
Bursting baby factory rings: Every year, security agents discover several new baby factories bubbling in the heinous crime of pumping out babies (child harvesting) for sale on the illegal adoption market by encouraging or forcing women to become pregnant and give up their newborns for sale.
Horror: Unlike legal child adoption which considers every child a gift to humanity which, if nurtured properly, will enhance the human race, operators of baby factories do not bother to ask important questions to individuals patronising them, questions such as: ‘What do you do for a living? What are your working hours? How do you intend to look after the child when you are off to work? Have you any medical plans for the child?
Future of these babies
‘Do you intend to include the child in your will and take care of him or her like your biological children when they come? How do you think the child would feel if tomorrow after learning that she/he was given up for a lot of money? This is simply because they see no reason to care one bit about the future of these babies.’
History: The first publicly reported case of a baby factory was contained in a report published by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 2006. Since then, most of the discovered baby factories have been in Southern Nigeria with high incidence in Ondo, Ogun, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Anambra. From a single identified baby factory in the years 2008 and 2009, the number of identified factories had increased to a total of five in 2013 and eight in 2015. The menace has continued to assume an upward trend despite human trafficking, including the sales of babies, being prohibited under the Nigerian law.
Geographical shift: The scourge which has over the years intensified in Southern Nigeria, however, appears to be gaining ground in Northern Nigeria lately, with two baby factories uncovered in January and February 2017 in Borno and Jos respectively. Though the reason for this geographical shift cannot be ascertained, it cannot be unconnected with the increasing spate of poverty, worsened by a growing loss of value for human life; drawing from evidences garnered from the factory uncovered in Jos.
Increasing spate of poverty
In that particular case, the arrest of nine males and four females involved in the act, which was made by men of Operation Safe Haven, OPSH, followed information from one Happiness John who became a victim of the suspects.
While narrating her story, Happiness who just had her second child out of wedlock said, “During my first pregnancy, almost two years ago, my friend, Zubaida came to me and told me that I should come and stay with her in a separate room so that when I give birth, she would take me to Lafia in Nasarawa State to sell the baby and have capital to start a business. She told me she had once sold her twins in Abuja but I rejected the idea.
“When I had the second pregnancy, Zubaida and her friend came and took me to a room around West of Mines in Jos and gave me hard drugs. I later found myself in my aunt’s room having delivered a baby. I immediately returned home with my baby and told my mother who accompanied me to security agents.”
Also, one of the women paraded, Mildred Luke, who was visibly pregnant, said she was allegedly impregnated by one of the men now at large. She said, “They promised me N350,000 for a boy and N300,000 for a baby girl while N400,000 will be paid to me if I delivered twins.”
Unsuspecting young ladies
As if to further corroborate Woman’s Own’s suspicion, giving details of their operation, one of the suspects in the Jos arrest, reportedly said the group has a network spread across the country which usually entices unsuspecting young ladies with mouth-watering offers and in other cases drug them with substances that lead to forced labour.
In a telephone chat with Woman’s Own, however, spokesman, Nigeria Police Force, CSP Jimoh Moshood, attributed the geographical shift to the inability of perpetrators to operate in certain parts of the country where they easily operated in the past. “It is the same Nigerians. But the thing is that people who find it difficult operating in one part of the country now move to other areas. But we are clamping down on them everywhere.”
Moshood who suggested Vanguard Woman’s Own should contact the Police Women’s Desk in charge of the subject for further inquiry, promised to facilitate connection with the desk but was yet to do so as at press time.
Likely reasons baby factories thrive: In spite of beliefs that newborns bought from baby factories are sold to ritualists for sacrificial purposes, the vast majority of buyers have certainly been proven to be married couples struggling to conceive, who therefore become desperate due to the social premium placed on child bearing.
This is regardless of the fact that the stigma of childlessness can be beaten through various legit methods such as surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, assisted reproductive technology or adoption through social services. It, therefore, becomes enigmatic why any family would prefer such surreptitious, dastardly method as patronising baby factories.
Effortless means: An official of the Lagos State Child Welfare and Adoption Unit in the Ministry of Youths Sports and Social Development, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Woman’s Own, also put forward the cost of adoption, in terms of responsibility requirement, duration of process and subsequent checks on the child, as reason some families might want to patronise black market babies otherwise known as factory babies.
“The procedure is energy, money and time consuming and most of the couples are disqualified eventually. In Lagos State for example, the procedure is also very strict and you can’t travel with the child, at least for the next five years.
This is because social workers will need to keep checking on the child. Sadly, that’s why some couples eventually go to baby factories. However, these are no excuses because it takes nine months to deliver a baby and such effort should not be wasted by handing over such baby to anyone without thorough investigation.
I think enduring the child adoption process is worth the gain for anyone.”
Cheaper babies: The strict adoption process notwithstanding, in terms of monetary cost, babies from baby factories tend to be given away on a platter of gold, with price value ranging from N300,000 to N1,000,000, depending on the baby’s sex and whether it is multiple births.
The almost insignificant effort put into claiming ownership of these babies, apart from doling out the required cash and receiving a baby in return, sometimes almost on the same day, makes this act a quick money-spinner for perpetrators.
Baby factories indisguise: Other reasons why individuals patronise baby factories, according to security agents, include the fact that most places where the illegal baby trade occurs masquerade as non-governmental organisations or charity homes, disguised in structures like maternity homes, orphanages and clinics. Operators of these places present themselves as humanitarians who take care of the pregnant women in need.
Last year for example, a baby factory clamped down in Abia State in September 2016, was in the guise of a maternity home. In 2008 also, a network of baby factories claiming to be orphanages, was revealed in Enugu State by police raids. In June and October 2011, the police also raided two hospitals, thereby dismantling two baby factories, rescuing thirty-two pregnant girls in Aba, Abia State, and seventeen in Ihiala, Anambra State.
Tackling baby factories
Tackling baby factories, a practice that results in physical, psychological, and sexual violence to the victims, while also jeopardising the future of children, will involve a multifaceted approach that includes advocacy and enacting of legislation barring baby factories and infant trafficking, as well as harsh consequences for their patrons.
Also, programs to educate young girls on preventing unwanted pregnancies are needed. Methods of improving awareness and acceptability of adoption and surrogacy and reducing the administrative and legal bottlenecks associated with these options for infertile couples should be explored to diminish the importance of baby factories.