Dozens of pregnant teenagers found at an illegal clinic in Nigeria and accused of trying to sell their babies are helping investigators find the organizers of baby trafficking rings, officials said.
They had lured the 32 teens to an illegal clinic to provide babies for trafficking rings in the southeastern city of Aba in Abia state, said Arinze Orakwe, a spokesman for the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons.
The girls, who are 15 to 18 years old, and the director of the Cross Foundation, also known as the Heda Clinic, were arrested last month during a police raid on the clinic. The anti-trafficking agency, however, considers only the director, Hyacinth Orikara, a suspect. Two girls have returned home after giving birth, and the rest of the girls are at the agency's shelter in the nearby city of Enugu are collaborating with investigators.
"The girls cannot face charges," said Orakwe. "They are victims of people who have devised evil means to make money."
The police have accused Orikara of buying the babies from young mothers and selling them for profit to childless couples in a trade that is believed to be fueled by the taboo of childlessness in this African nation. He denied the charge, explaining that he is a volunteer doctor who delivers unwanted babies and places them in orphanages.
One of the girls told Abia State Police Chief Bala Hassan that mothers sell their babies for $160 to $190. The anti-trafficking agency says the girls are often tricked _ even forced _ to give up their babies, which are later resold for up to $6,400, depending on their gender. Traditionally boys are preferred because they can inherit land according to local Igbo custom.
Officials at the anti-trafficking agency say they are alarmed by growing illegal adoptions which have no control or oversight.
"When you adopt a child through the government, everything is done in the open, you have to go through interviews," says Capt. Jide George, chairman of the board of trustees of the Lagos-based Little Saints Orphanage. "Married couples who don't have children want to do it undercover. They don't mind paying any amount as long as it's kept under wraps."
Wives who cannot give birth are often taunted by their in-laws, or forced out of their homes. Seldom do the husbands face criticism.
"In most cases, it (illegally adopting a baby) is a conspiracy between the husband and the wife," George said.
Grassroots organizations say the young mothers rarely get to see their newborns.
"They are handed over to the couple waiting outside the delivery room," says Benjamin Mbakwem, a member of the Imo state chapter of the Child Protection Network.