#minorsextrafficking | The ‘baby factories’ of Nigeria

In 2018 Nigerian authorities rescued over 160 babies held in unregistered orphanages at the country’s capital in a raid that caught global attention while shining the spotlight on the sophisticated human trafficking racket in the West African country.

But it was no ordinary raid as it exposed a new form of human smuggling where baby delivery homes and unregistered maternities had been turned into ‘baby factories’ with the children being sold in black markets for adoption, trafficked into prostitution and in some cases offered for ritual killings. 

The Nigeria baby selling scam has been going on for years and local media frequently carry reports of police raiding these homes and nabbing masterminds. But as soon as the cameras go off and life goes back to normal, another racket flourishes in what points to how deep and well-oiled the syndicate is. 

forced to carry pregnancy after rape

And the script almost always reads the same. Young girls, mostly in rural areas, desperate for jobs or those stuck in tough conditions in the IDP camps are approached, mostly by someone they know, with a promise of a job and good life. Once they get into their ‘places of work’ they are held in desolate situations and denied any contact with the outside world. They are then raped and forced to carry their pregnancies to term. Once they deliver, their children are taken from them and they are kicked from these homes. Media reports have narrated of how the girls are raped in turns even when pregnant with some as young as 13 getting pregnant. 

“Traffickers operate “baby factories”—often disguised as orphanages, maternity homes, or religious centers—where traffickers hold women against their will, rape them, and force them to carry and deliver a child. The traffickers sell the children, sometimes with the intent to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking,” read a section of the 2019 United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons report while describing the human trafficking situation in the West African nation.  In the black market, the gender of the child determines the price with boys costing more, at $1400 compared to girls $830. 

Baby selling scam to Europe

It is a racket that has gone international with desperate childless couples from Europe traveling to Nigeria where they are promised and sold what they are told are unwanted children. 

In 2012, a UK judge sounded the alarm over increasing cases of British couples who were getting caught in the Nigeria baby selling scam with the scammers riding on their desperation to have children. 

The Nigeria government that has come under heavy criticism for not doing enough to crack the whip on the trade has swung into action setting up institutions like the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons which has been credited with the recent wave of arrests and prosecutions of the masterminds of the scam. 

But even as the crackdowns continue, there have been mounting concerns over the agency’s inability to tame the proliferation of baby factories which have made human trafficking the third widespread crime in the country after financial fraud and drug trafficking. While there are no official statistics on the number of babies trafficked in the black market or women and girls who have been exploited through this trade, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, estimates that up to one million people are trafficked in Nigeria every year. “Over 75 per cent of those trafficked are trafficked across the states, 23 percent are trafficked within states while 2 percent are trafficked outside the country,” the UN agency says. 

Lack of coordination between the various government agencies implementing anti- trafficking legislations and limited understanding of the said legislations especially by judges has been blamed for slamming the brakes on efforts to bring the trade to an end once and for all even as those high in the ranks evade police dragnets and prosecution. 

Law enforcement fails

“Enforcement of the anti-trafficking law remained ineffective in many parts of the country, and while officials made efforts to address trafficking cases, insufficient resources hampered efforts. Prosecutors and investigators reported poor coordination between NAPTIP and other government agencies impeded prosecution efforts. The government acknowledged many judges remained unfamiliar with the anti-trafficking law—including the provision requiring judges to prescribe sentences that include imprisonment—which hindered law enforcement efforts,” the Trafficking in Persons report further read. 

For now the rescued girls continue to receive mental, moral and financial support through vocational and technical trainings from government and other organizations as they seek to rise beyond experiences that have scarred them for life.

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