Making money from babies

2013-10-13
TRIBUNE Newspaper

The arrests of owners of illegal foster homes who engage in sale of babies to those who need them for one reason or the other has brought to the fore the continuous trend of the criminal act. JUDE OSSAI reports on why selling of babies has continued to flourish in the South-East.

UNTIL recently, it was a sacrilege in Igboland for someone to be involved in baby sale, especially after the abolition of slave trade. Babies are regarded as free gifts from God. This is expressed in an Igbo saying ‘anaghi ere nwa na ahia, nwa bu Onyinyechukwu’. Thus, they are not expected to be put on sale.

However, the tradition of the past seems to have been jettisoned for the new trend which has pervaded many states in Nigeria, especially the South-Eastern part. These days, babies are sold and bought as one buys candy from a confectioner’s store. What remains to be seen is a situation whereby a shop or building would have ‘babies for sale’ written boldly on it.

The anomaly has taken a dangerous dimension that it has raised concern among the people generally, as couples have also joined in the business of selling even their unborn babies!

The origin of baby sale cannot be traced, though it had been going on for ages, especially since the advent of the Europeans who brought education and foreign religion which was a departure from the traditional way of worshipping God.

It was the Europeans that gave Africans the idea of a foster home where unwanted babies could be procured for people who either could not have children of their own or who, for the love of humanity, procure such children with the aim of helping the them survive and get integrated into the larger society.

No doubt, the Europeans who brought the idea of foster homes and orphanages might have meant well but these days, the culture seems to have been bastardised by criminally-minded citizens who now trade in children in the guise of rendering humanitarian service to the society.

Almost on a monthly basis, different news media are filled with stories of babies that are sold to either childless couples or ritualists who buy babies with the ulterior motive to amass wealth through unorthodox means, with the connivance of native doctors who make charms and talisman for them.

Sunday Tribune observed recently that illegal foster homes had been sprouting in the South-East. Normally, abandoned children are kept in government-approved motherless babies homes. But it has almost turned to a convention that some couples who have fertility problems would patronise baby factories illegally instead of going to the approved homes for legal adoption of orphans as their own children.

In July 21, 2013, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, (NSCDC), Enugu State Command, burst an illegal foster home at Coal Camp, Ogbete Enugu, Enugu State. A 74-year-old man, Dr. Ben Agbo and a lady that helped him run an orphanage known as Moonlight Maternity Home, 61 Agbani Road by Abagana Street, Coal Camp, were arrested.

Babies displayed for sale?When the officials of the Civil Defence Corps, who were acting on a tip-off, raided the home, a three-day-old baby was about being sold for N20, 000. That was the money the mother of the child would get from the maternity home, after which the baby could be sold for hundreds of thousands of Naira.

Also recently, the police discovered many baby factories in almost all the states of the South-East and rescued some teenagers who were kept in the homes for baby making.

Speaking to reporters recently in Enugu State, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amarizu said that police detectives rescued six pregnant teenagers who were forcefully taken away from their homes to a suspected baby-making centre in the state.

Amarizu stated that the anti-kidnapping unit of the command rescued the young girls from the centre located at No 7, Anyansi Lane Ogui, Enugu, after a tip-off.

He disclosed that the young girls identified as Chioma Eze, Amarachi Okoro, Gloria Okoye, Uzoamaka Lawrence, Nneji Faith and Akpan Juliana were allegedly smuggled out of their guardians’ homes and kept in a place that is hidden until they would give birth to babies which would be sold out to people they have negotiated with.

The Enugu Police image maker stated that three persons were arrested in connection with the incident, adding that their names were Lami Lasu, Isha Musa and Anthony Chigbo.

Amaraizu further stated that investigations into the incident had commenced. Surprisingly, few hours after the discovery, operatives of the command arrested one Marcel Agu and his wife Calista Agu for allegedly stealing a 12-day-old male child.

It was gathered that the suspects allegedly stole the baby from his mother, identified as Chika Nwokolo, after she was delivered of the child. The suspects stole the baby from an unnamed maternity home along Ebony Paint Road, Akwunanaw.

Confirming the incident, Amaraizu stated that two suspects, Mrs Nebo Stella and Patrick Ugwu, had been arrested in connection with the alleged crime, disclosing that the suspects were now helping the police in its investigations.

Within the same period, the law enforcement agents in Enugu also arrested a middle-aged man who identified himself as Ozo Ben Akpudache from Ogui Eke in Udi Local Government Area of the state for allegedly operating a baby factory.

The command’s public relations officer, Ebere Amaraizu, who confirmed the arrest, had said that the illegal centre accommodated pregnant teenage girls until they were delivered of their babies.

The suspect, he disclosed, was arrested by operatives of 9th Mile Division of Enugu State Police Command at his Ogui Eke residence, adding that the suspect had a three-room apartment where he kept young pregnant girls.

“It was gathered that the suspect’s house was raided following a tip and in the course of the raid, six young pregnant girls who gave their names as Chika Nwankwo, Ogochukwu Amadi, Amarachi Sunday, Ugwu Nnenna, Maryann Ani and Ogbu Precious were rescued from those apartments in the residence.

“One of the pregnant girls, Ugwu Nnenna, narrated her ordeal and how she found herself in the apartment. She pointed out that it was frustration that took her to the place and a promise by the operator of the place that she would stay there to deliver the baby and that after the delivery, some undisclosed amount would be given to her to take care of herself.

She also confessed that she was linked with the place by someone but regretted her action.

According to the PPRO, the alleged owner of the business, Mr. Ozo Ben Akpudache, in his reaction, had stated that he had been in the business for the past five years.

The Enugu Police Spokesman further added that the suspect confirmed that the business was geared towards helping those who might have been without a child for many years and want one or more.

“The arrested suspect further revealed that the deliveries were carried out by him in one of the rooms in his apartment where a traditional labour room was seen, but maintained that he was not a medical doctor but plied his profession traditionally. The rescued girls are helping the operatives in their investigation”. Amaraizu said.

The story of baby factory is the same in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, and Imo states, as the police and security operatives had equally discovered illegal foster homes in these states.

For instance, in Imo State, security operatives rescued about 17 pregnant teenage girls from a house where they were kept to make babies, as well as 11 babies, during a raid.

The girls were said to have claimed, after their rescue, that they were fed once a day and were not allowed to leave the home. Also, the girls claimed that a 23-year-old man, who was heavily fed always, impregnated them.

Prior to the raid, security operatives discovered an orphanage home in Umuozuo, Osisioma Local Government Area, Abia State. At the illegal foster home, about 32 pregnant ladies were found and it was gathered that their babies were to be sold upon delivery.

These examples are just few cases of babies who are being sold that were made public through the media.

The ugly and unacceptable business is going on everywhere in the South-East, with those who knew about it keeping sealed lips.

Governments are not oblivious of this fact that babies are being sold. The government of Imo State recently took the bull by the horn and declared that only the religious organisations would be allowed to operate foster and orphanage homes so that child adoption and fostering would be streamlined.

The Enugu State, government is equally aware of the foster homes and illegal maternity homes where babies are sold and bought. A source at the Ministry of Gender Affairs who spoke under anonymity said although child adoption is done, it is alien to Igbo culture.

According to him, instead of having abandoned babies consequently leading to child beggars, the authorities had invariably recognised some organisations to run foster homes.

The Enugu State Commissioner for Gender Affairs, Mrs. Ndidi Chukwu, could not talk on the state of baby factory in the state or foster homes and child adoption in the state, as she told Sunday Tribune on phone that she was on leave.

A source however said that staff of the Gender Ministry has been warned not to speak with journalists about baby factories, child fostering and adoption, because powerful people in government and in the business world were allegedly involved in the business.

But does the sale of babies have any implication for Igbo culture?

The answer is that it is alien to Igbo culture. A traditional title holder in Ojebe Ogene area of Udi in Enugu State, Chief Clement Oforma said that in his community, childless couples don’t adopt babies. What they do, he said, is that a man could adopt his brother’s or sister’s child to be his heir when he dies with the consent of the parents of the child. According to Chief Oforma, the idea of buying a baby and bringing him or her to a family is alien to their culture.

Mr. Hilary Ezeugwu, a native of Opi, in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, say baby sale or adoption is alien to the tradition of his people. Mr. Ezeugwu said the issue of having an heir is not a problem. “What the Opi people do is, if a man dies without having a child to succeed him, whatever he has goes to his next of kin and even if all the members of kindred dies, his property would be inherited by anybody in his village who is related to him either closely or remotely.

An elderly man in Umuahia, Abia State, Chief Fred Okpara noted that civilization had done a lot to Igbo culture. According to him, if not because people now buy babies, “all these illegal homes we read about on papers everyday will not be happening.

“In my place, if a couple dies without having a child, his possessions belong to his brothers and sisters who inherit it the way they chose. The man’s property can belong to any of his relations, but to buy a baby and bring it into our family was unheard of. It is an abomination”, he stated.

Mrs. Agnes Ugwu from Orba in Udenu Local Government area of Enugu State said, “if anybody adopts a child in Orba, the adopted child will not participate in sharing communal land but only inherit the personal land that belongs to the person that adopted him or her.” She said no matter how rich the adopted child might be, he cannot be a traditional ruler in their place because the person would be regarded as an outcast, which is called Osu in some parts of Igboland.

In order to preserve the Igbo culture, Mrs. Ugwu opined that child adoption as it is practised now should be discontinued so that all those foster homes would disappear.

“To solve the issue of unwanted pregnancies and unwanted babies, if a girl becomes pregnant out of wedlock, the child belongs to the parents of the girl who rear him or her as their own blood. If however the person that impregnated her will not own up to the pregnancy or owns up to the pregnancy but refuses to marry the girl he impregnated, the child will be owned by her parents and that closes the matter”, she added.

Further checks revealed that the prevalence of foster homes and orphanages have not solved the problem of unwanted pregnancies neither has it solved the issue of abandoned babies which the alleged perpetrators had claimed to be their reason for embarking on the unholy act.

This is because girls are now aware that if they become pregnant in their father’s house, they now have a place to go and deliver their babies and even make money out of it.

Apparently, illegal homes are thriving because the girls get monetary compensation for becoming pregnant and disposing of the babies afterwards for cash ranging from N20,000 to N30,000, whereas owners of the foster homes sell their babies for up to N500,000 to would-be childless couples in need of children they could call their own.

One might ask if there is any virtue in running the orphanages and foster homes. To the like Chief Oforma, foster homes have helped in reducing the gory sight of seeing babies being abandoned to die, meaning that whatever that has a disadvantage must have an advantage.

“The sale of babies under whatever guise, no doubt may have helped some couples who would have been derided by the society for not being able to have babies which are so much cherished in Igboland till this day. If people don’t find out that the child is adopted or purchased, the couple that adopted the child would live happily all the days of their lives.

“However, whether there is virtue in running foster homes or not, sale of babies is anathema and alien to Igbo culture and should be discouraged so that the Igbo nation is not seen by the outside world as a race that indulge in the sale of human beings”, he added.

 

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