The Police in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, have apprehended a 30 year old man, Edet Essien Inyang, for allegedly attempting to harvest two of his children.
Child harvesting in Nigeria is a subset of human trafficking. Often, it takes place in structures disguised as maternity homes, orphanages, clinics and small scale factories where pregnant girls live and deliver babies in return for monetary compensation.
Before the latest development in Calabar, the trend was precipitated by various factors including a social premium placed on child bearing and social stigmas around infertility and teenage pregnancy. A black market for newly born babies has developed in parts of the country to provide infants to wealthy families who prefer cheaper clandestine methods as a substitute for surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, assisted reproductive technology or adoption through social services.
According to Wikipedia, the majority of the women whose children are sold are young unmarried women from lower-income households who are scared of social stigmatisation as a result of an unwanted teenage pregnancy.
Some of the young girls go to the baby factory after searching for abortion clinics, though others have been kidnapped. Most of the discovered baby factories with high incidence are in Ondo, Ogun, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Anambra states.
But, human trafficking, including selling children, is prohibited under Nigerian law, and more than10 years a UNESCO report on human trafficking in Nigeria identified the business as the country’s third-most common crime behind financial fraud and drug trafficking, the situation certainly has not improved.
At least 10 children are allegedly sold every day across the country. They are now being sold like commodities.
The United States Department of State had alerted prospective adoptive parents to the issue of child buying from Nigeria in June 2014 after Nigerian media warned that people were posing as owners of orphanages or homes for unwed mothers to make money.
‘’The State Department is aware of a growing number of adoption scams’’, an alert on its website read.
As at then, over 1,600 children have been adopted from Nigeria by US citizens since 1999, according to the State Department website, about a third of them aged between one and two years old.
A US official said the State Department facilitates contact between foreign officials and U.S. authorities when foreign governments raise any concerns regarding the welfare of an adopted child.
‘’To date, we are not aware of any concerns regarding the welfare of a child adopted from Nigeria’’, a State Department official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.
In Britain a couple was found by the High Court to have ‘’fallen under the spell’’ of an elaborate fraud after paying 4,500 pounds ($5,600) for herbal treatment in Nigeria that caused the woman’s stomach to swell, media reported in 2014.
The couple only realised they had been duped nine months later when presented with a baby in Nigeria that actually was not theirs, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.
Babies, whose biological parents or backgrounds are unknown, are offered to women who have not been able to conceive naturally, according to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and interviews with three women.
The British government said it was committed to stamping out what it calls the “miracle babies” phenomenon. ‘’Specially-trained teams are working at the UK border to identify and safeguard babies and children who may be at risk of trafficking’’, said a spokesman for the Home Office (UK interior ministry) in a statement.
Denmark suspended adoptions from Nigeria in 2014 citing concerns over forgery, corruption and lack of control by the authorities.
Apart from the illicit trade in babies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.
The Nigerian government has not ratified an internationally recognised set of rules known as the Hague Adoption Convention which meant the laws governing adoptions remain murky and complicated, campaigners said.
‘’There is corruption in the adoption process and that is the individual (Nigerian) states’ responsibility’’, a NAPTIP official was quoted as saying so, adding that the central government should step up their funding to NAPTIP so that the agency can increase support to victims. Orakwue said.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigative team spoke to more than 10 Nigerian women duped into giving up their newborns to strangers in houses known as ‘’baby factories’’ in the past two years or offered babies whose origins were unknown.
Five women did not want to be interviewed, despite the guarantee of anonymity, fearing for their own safety with criminal gangs involved in the baby trade, while two men spoke of being paid to act as “studs” to get women pregnant.
Although statistics are hard to come by, campaigners say the sale of newborns is widespread – and they fear the illegal trade is becoming more prevalent with Nigeria heading into recession this year amid ongoing political turbulence.
‘’The government is too overstretched by other issues to focus on baby trafficking’’, said Arinze Orakwue, head of public enlightenment at NAPTIP. Record numbers of baby factories were raided or closed down in the southeastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo this year, NAPTIP said.
A total of 14 were discovered in the first nine months of 2016, up from six in 2015 and 10 in 2014, the data showed.
But despite the growing number of raids, the scam exploiting couples desperate for a baby and young, pregnant, single women continues with newborns sold for up to $5,000 in Africa’s most populous nation where most people live on less than $2.00 a day.
Cultural barriers are also a factor in the West African nation, with teenage girls fearing they will be publicly shamed by strict fathers or partners over unwanted pregnancies if they do not give up their children, experts say.
‘’In Eastern Nigeria a woman is deemed a failure if she fails to conceive. But it is also taboo for a teenager to fall pregnant out of wedlock’’, said Orakwue.
Maria said in the home in Imo state where she gave birth pregnant teenagers were welcomed by a maternal nurse who liked to be called “mama” but went on to sell the babies they delivered.
‘’(After I gave birth) somebody told me that mama collected big money from people before giving them other people’s babies’’, Maria told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the grounds of a school compound in her village. ‘’I do not know where my baby is now’’, said Maria, using a false name for her own protection.
In the mean time, local sources in Calabar say Edet took his two children, one male and one female to Murray Street where he sought for buyers to enable him raise money to save him from the poverty he is going through.
An eye-witness said, ‘’he came here with the children and asked after one rich man on this street and when he did not see the man, we asked him what he was looking for the man for and he said was looking for someone to buy his two children. He said the male child is N200, 000 and the female N150, 000.’’
Continuing, the eye-witness said they were taken aback by what the man said and to stop him from taking the children somewhere to sell, they had to ‘’delay him while making effort to contact the Police at Atakpa Police Station which is close by which immediately sent a team to arrest him. He said he is from Akwa Ibom State but resides in Usung Inyang which is in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River State.’’
Though the Atakpa Police Station confirmed the arrest of the man, Police Spokesperson in the state, Irene Ugbo, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) said she was yet to be briefed on the matter.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had last May said his All Progressives Congress (APC) administration will not disappoint Nigerians.
He said his government was doing everything possible to ameliorate their hardship. The News Agency of Nigeria reported that Buhari stated this during an APC rally in Dutse as part of activities of his two day working visit to Jigawa State then.
He said that he was aware of the hardship faced by people as a result of the economic crunch and hike in prices of essential commodities, pointing out that the Federal Government had stopped the importation of rice to encourage local production and empower farmers.
Meanwhile, the Atakpa Police Station has said the matter has been transferred to the State Criminal Division at the state Police Command headquarters for further investigations.