The baby factory business is one of the most disturbing illegal businesses that is persistently ravaging Nigeria. At least ten babies are sold every day in Nigeria, according to a report by the United Nations. The menace has continued to strive despite spirited efforts by law enforcement agencies to stop it.
It is disheartening how the ‘evil’ of turning babies into ordinary wares has continued to trend in West Africa, especially in Nigeria. According to a 2011 report of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), human trafficking is the third most common heinous crime in Nigeria as well as most other countries, after financial fraud and drug trafficking.
Police spokesman, Police Commissioner (CP) Frank Mba, during a seminar organised by the Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria (CRAN) to mark the International Day against Drug and Human Trafficking in 2017, described child harvesting as another phase of human trafficking.
Illegal maternity homes have continued to spring up with reports of the number of identified factories growing every year. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report in 2006 revealed that most of the discovered baby factories were found in Southern Nigeria with high incidence in Ondo, Ogun, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Anambra. It is seen by most Nigerians as a nefarious practice that has continued unabated, now expanding at an alarming proportion in different parts of the country.
In recent times, almost every region and states in Nigeria have recorded one or more arrest of operators of baby factories. In February 2018, during a press conference in Maiduguri, the Commissioner for Justice, Mr Kakashehu Lawal made it known that a baby factory was discovered in Borno State. This led to the arrest of four women alongside the principal suspect that took part in the crime.
In February 2018, 2 suspects aged 50 and 40 (husband and wife) were arrested for harbouring pregnant women and selling their babies without their consent at No. 1, Treasure Palace road Ikotun/Igando, Lagos.
In August 2020, another baby-trafficking syndicate was uncovered at an unknown and hidden location between Benin City and Anambra State.
The Rivers State Police Command in October 2018 also burst a baby factory in Rukpokwu and rescued 16 pregnant girls in Obio/Kpor Local Government Area. 12 ladies between the ages of 20 to 25 years were rescued with six amongst them heavily pregnant. In December 2020, a baby factory center was discovered in Mowe, Ogun State. 10 people, including four kids and six women, four of whom were pregnant were rescued. These are just a few out of the numerous incidents recorded across the country.
The baby factories mostly operate under the guise of maternity homes and clinics. Nevertheless, they also hid under the umbrella of orphanage homes: as in 2008, when a network of baby factories claiming to be orphanages were revealed in Enugu through police raids. Some masquerade as prayer homes like the case in 2017 when a prayer house located at 252 Faulks Road in Aba was smashed by the state police command for operating a baby factory. Other forms of these these baby factory syndrome disguise are social welfare homes, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and so on.
The upsurge of this illegal business has raised concerns from concerned citizens in all spheres of life, especially women. For instance, in July 2014, mothers in the Southeast where this menace thrives met to find a solution to the baby factory syndrome. The theme for the women gathering (Ogbako NdiNne) was “The baby Factory Conundrum” (A social discourse on the growing menace of the baby factory activities, its debasing impact on motherhood and the pain of forced motherhood).
“We will lend our voice to working mothers in saying no to baby factories and yes to wholesome, beautiful and gracious Igbo women”, the marketing manager, multi Channels, Vlisco Nigeria Ltd Mrs Ada Alilonu said.
The perpetrators of the act lure teenage girls and ladies with all sort bait. A baby is being sold for as low as 300,000 naira just as the Benin City and Anambra State incident where a young girl’s week-old baby was sold with the promise that 300,000 naira would be given to her. One of the victim, Chindera Onuoha in the Ogun incident revealed that baby boys are sold for 250,000 naira, while girls are sold for 200,000 naira.
The owners of these illegal maternity homes hire men to impregnate ladies. In some cases, these young ladies are held against their will and raped and their babies sold for profit. Other times, it is a case of a pregnant lady getting to a maternity home to deliver, ignorant of the fact that it is a baby factory center and her baby ends up being sold without her consent.
The baby factory centres across Nigeria has also become a place of solace for young girls with unwanted pregnancy. For instance, a rescued victim, Precious Emmanuel, said that she was worried after getting pregnant for a foreigner and was introduced to the baby factory by her sister.
Another angle is that this menace has thrived in Nigeria due to the stigmatization of ladies who get pregnant out of wedlock. This is because those victims find the hostels as safe havens for secretly dropping their unwanted babies for a token without the glare of the public and thereafter continue with their normal lives as though nothing happened.
Frank Mba, in the 2017 seminar pointed out that the trend was precipitated by various factors including high social premium placed on childbearing, infertility and teenage pregnancy hastened by the unwanted social stigma associated with them.
One other major reason for the continued occurrence of this second slavery rest on the fact that like most other organized crimes, baby factories are operated by a powerful cartel, involving prominent people backing the nefarious trade. They recruit assistants among doctors, nurses, social workers and civil servants.
Poverty, though never an excused, has made extremely poor and vulnerable teen girls and ladies see such homes as veritable opportunities for redressing their economic misfortunes by selling their babies.
“They gave birth, get paid and those willing even stay and are even retained for further production of babies,’’ Mba noted.
The babies are being sold both domestically and internationally. However, with the high rate of rituals and the global rise in human organs trafficking one cannot predict the hands those babies fall into. Most of these babies are also tortured as they are used as domestic workers in homes, plantations, factories and even prostitution.
The notorious crime is worrisome as it poses a great threat to national security. The situation made the House of Representatives in March 2020 to pass a resolution calling on the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to synergize with other law enforcement agencies to forestall the activities of baby factories through effective intelligence gathering and dissemination of information.
“The House is desirous of putting an end to the operations of those baby factories to save those helpless teen girls and ladies from the risks involved in their indulgences,” the lawmakers warned.
Before then, in October 2014, members of the House of Representatives also passed a bill, sponsored by Eddie Ifeanyichukwu Mbadiwe (Imo/PDP), titled: “A Bill for an Act to amend the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, No. 28 of 2004 to prohibit racketeering with human pregnancy or operation of baby production factories, harbouring of expectant persons under 18 years and above, selling or attempting to sell newly-born babies and other matters related thereto.”
The question now is, are these laws, including the NAPTIP Act not adequate or can ignorance as regards their existence propel the growth of this ‘evil trade?’
There are various suggestions on how this problem can be tackled. Mba, says “ We need subsidy for fertility treatment and adoption process in the country must be streamlined.” He further enjoined members of the media to play its role in tackling the menace as they have what it takes to bring the battle to the forefront.
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Just as reminder on last year’s resolutions of the House of Representative, the authorities of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) need to closely monitor orphanages and maternity homes to prevent them from being used for these nefarious activities. The House also mandated the joint Committees on Human Rights and Healthcare Services to ensure the implementation.
The Ministry of Health, both state and federal levels, must ensure that all maternity homes and orphanages are duly registered and issued licences to operate within their scope.
Faith Omo Ohioze