By Kotie Geldenhuys
Infertility or the desire to have a child has resulted in many babies ending up as commodities for sale on the black market. Babies are either stolen or simply bought from mothers who cannot support their babies. The trade in and trafficking of babies happen in many countries across the world, but mostly in poor countries.
Stealing and selling babies is nothing new. Seventy years ago, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, USA was closed and even today the unimaginable horror of the place still echoes, not because many of the children were orphaned or abused, but because they were stolen. For 20 years, Georgia Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where she and an elaborate network of people, including doctors, police officials and lawyers, kidnapped and abused children to sell them off to wealthy couples. Since many families were only interested in babies, she concentrated her efforts on procuring infants. She targeted homes for unwed mothers, welfare hospitals and prisons and doctors, working with her, told new mothers that their babies had died during birth. Those children were “buried” at no cost to the families. Apart from snitching new-born babies, Georgia also coerced some mothers into signing their children away while still under sedation from labour. She preyed on women’s desperation, their poverty and their sense of shame. Although she made millions of dollars from stealing babies and children, Georgia Tann was never held accountable as three days after she was exposed, she died at home after slipping into a mysterious coma from untreated uterine cancer (Celeste, 2019).
Sadly, Georgia Tann and her network were not the last people who traded in babies. There are many horror stories of babies who are sold on the black market and in this article, we will share some of them. The black market for babies is thriving in several African countries and although it is not as widely reported in South Africa, there have been hair-raising cases of babies who have been sold or offered for sale. This includes the 2011 case of a government social worker of Kempton Park, who faked her qualifications and was selling babies to people who wanted to adopt children. She charged people who wanted to adopt children an adoption fee of between R400 and R6000 (News24, 2011). Then there was the case of a 20-year-old Pietermaritzburg woman who tried to sell her 19-month-old baby on Gumtree in October 2015. According to this woman, she tried selling her baby after her boyfriend had stopped paying child support when paternity tests revealed that he was not the father. The mother was charged with human trafficking and although human trafficking carries a maximum life sentence or a fine of R100 million, she was given a five-year suspended sentence and had to live under house arrest for three years. According to the magistrate, the reason why this lenient sentence was handed down, was because the woman did not have the intent per se to traffic her child (AFP, 2016).
NIGERIA’S BABY FACTORIES
According to reports, nearly 25% of Nigerian couples are infertile (Ajayi and Dibosa-Osadolor, 2011). But since treatment is expensive and often not an option, these couples have to look into surrogacy or adoption as alternatives to start a family. However, many women in Nigeria do not opt for surrogacy or adoption due to the stigma associated to infertility in their country. This stigma has contributed to the establishment of illegal "baby factories" which constitute a new form of human trafficking in Nigeria (Makinde et al, 2017). The perpetrators of these crimes are highly organised syndicates that involve a diverse number of players (Onuoha, 2014).
Crimes committed behind closed doors
According to Svetlana Huntley, an independent human rights researcher, these baby factories are usually located in buildings or institutions such as hospitals or orphanages which were converted to shelters for young pregnant girls and women where they first deliver their babies and from where the babies are sold (Huntley, 2013). Various evil crimes occur behind the walls of these baby factories and include baby breeding, forced impregnations, sale of babies, illegal adoptions as well as human trafficking. To ensure that there are more babies available for trafficking, many women in these baby factories are often forcefully impregnated by one of their kidnappers or an associate (Makinde et al, 2017).