In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, a different kind of illicit trade is taking root: breeding and sale of human beings.
In the West African nation of 213 million people, some unscrupulous traders have made it their business to ‘manufacture’ and sell babies for thousands of dollars.
While the baby factories menace has plagued Abuja authorities for decades, it had gone down and police for once thought they had wiped it out.
That was until recently when a 17-year-old boy was caught in a homestead where he was ‘assigned’ to impregnate 10 young women in Nigeria’s Rivers State. The boy, according to detectives, was just a stud or a “breeder”.
The crackdown in Obio-Akpor area last month also saw two women aged 30 and 40 arrested and 19 pregnant women rescued.
Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer Grace Iringe-Koko said the suspects were arrested following a tip-off that led to the raid on the two houses where the victims of child trafficking were kept.
According to police, investigations revealed that when a victim was delivered of her baby, the syndicate leader kept the child and paid the mother N500,000 ($1,100).
“All the victims confessed that they were lured to the illicit sale of children because of financial challenges,” investigation report reads in part.
Despite crackdowns, ‘baby factories’ thrive in Nigeria. Men are hired to impregnate women to sire infants who are then sold off to rich families. Since they ignore adoption protocols, the authorities have labelled this human trafficking.
The snake-oil salespersons operate from shanties, church-run properties, illegal nursing homes, and residential houses, profiting from the gullibility of poor women.
Craving for sons
The trade in children is largely patronised by childless couples and sometimes people of goodwill corrupted by evil intentions for a lucrative business. It thrives in South East, South South, South West and North Central regions.
Alabi Aruna, a detective who led a sting operation in Calabar, Cross River State in South South region, last December reported that operators sell babies for between N1,500,000 ($3,125) and N3,500,000 ($7,260) depending on the gender.
“Male children are more expensive because of the craze for sons in Nigeria,” he said.
Operators of these factories lure unsuspecting women into the business with promises of a better life, outright abduction and force.
Dumped by boyfriend
Favour, an 18-year-old secondary school graduate, and one of the girls rescued in one of such factories in Port Harcourt, said she was dumped by her boyfriend after getting pregnant.
“A woman known as Precious took me in and located me in a church where I stayed for one month and I was delivered of my child. They gave me an injection that induced the pregnancy. They locked me up in a room with some other girls. They sold my baby and one other for $5,000 (N2.5 million),’’ she told police.
Loveth, one of the 23 girls rescued at Otolo, Nnewi in Imo State, South East Nigeria, said: “I was lured to the house where I met other girls and I was told I would be taken abroad as house maid.’’
“They forced us to have sex with strange men whose work is to impregnate the girls. Once a baby is delivered, it is taken away. We are kept in by the heavy security... I have delivered babies twice since I was held in 2018,’’ she said.
Last month, police arrested a couple suspected of running illegal baby factories in Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Imo states. The woman who lives in Port Harcourt said another suspect who is on the run introduced her to the trade.
One customer confessed to buying a boy and a girl, for $7,000 (N3.5 million).
Anthony Osaze, who had been married for 15 years, said they approached a baby home instead of orphanage, where adoption of babies had been difficult because of the stringent requirements.
“I have been going to an orphanage in Lagos for four years without success as they do not have new babies, so I was introduced to a nursing home where I paid the money for the two babies.”
“I do not know the mothers of the babies, but they were given to me and I promised to take good care of them,” Mr Osaze said.
Poverty and lawlessness
Aliu Musa, a social worker in Abuja, said poverty and lawlessness fuel baby factories. Also, the bureaucracy involved in legal adoption of discourages potential child adopters.
“Many couples are restless and want to get babies fast but at orphanages, they face many hurdles and instead opt for illegal homes or baby factories where children are sold without documentation,” Musa said.
“Similarly, some ladies who get pregnant and are forsaken by their lovers to face a bleak future of single motherhood go to baby factories where they deliver and get paid. In many cases, these ladies are forcibly detained and continue getting impregnated by hired young men.’’
198 homes shut
The Nigeria police in collaboration with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and other security agencies have shut down at least 198 such homes or factories in the past five years.
NAPTIP, established in 2003, has directed all privately run rehabilitation shelters and homes for trafficked persons nationwide to obtain clearance certificates within 30 days or risk being shut down.
NAPTIP head of Press and Public Relations Stella Nezan said NAPTIP’s deadline to private shelters and rehabilitation homes had already passed in June last year but will continually educate the public, especially the poor, not to let off their girls on the promise of quick riches.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican.