INSIDE ABIA'S 'BABY FACTORIES' - TEEN MOTHERS SELL BABIES FOR N10,000
Like an ugly folk tale, stories of young girls having babies for purposes other than mothering them, abound. But it is a painful reality in Abia State. Teenage girls get pregnant only for the baby to be taken away from them and sold off. This has caused well-meaning citizens to be more vigilant of these events and give tip offs to appropriate authorities. It was one of those tip-offs that led to the massive raid of two illegal maternity homes, dubbed ‘baby factories’.
At one of such ‘baby factories’ on Nicholas Street, Aba, the place was run by a medical doctor who gave his name simply as Dr. Orikara, along with a nurse. The second one is called Double Research Clinic and Laboratory at Iheoji Mgboko in Obingwa local government area, run by a Mr. Onyemachi John, a lab scientist. In an ideal situation, the essence of running such a home is to enable prospective parents or individuals who desire to adopt, be able to do so. But the reverse seems to be the case with an operation as such being shrouded in secrecy. Although Orikara and John, after getting arrested, claim to be selling the babies for adoption purposes, the fear is that many of these babies are sold off for ritual purposes. It is yet to be ascertained who or what kind of people partronise such markets. Adoption is a legal act as long as the proper procedures are followed. It also costs a lot less to adopt legally than go through shady means.
According to a resident of Aba who chose to remain anonymous, Abia’s ‘baby factories’ could be compared to poultries where chickens are kept and just fed in order to produce and lay eggs. Girls between their mid-teens and mid-twenties made up the forty-one girls who were rescued by operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Mr. Soji Alabi, the Public Relations Officer of the Abia State NSCDC told Weekly Trust that this is not the first time they have made arrests regarding illegal maternity homes. “It is something that has been on-going over the years,” he said. “Every community in Abia State is known to have one or so of such ‘baby factories’ as they are called. Teenage girls who get pregnant out of wedlock head there to get rid of their babies. Some of these so-called maternity homes even have agents who go about hunting for young girls to exploit.”
Following a tip-off, NSCDC men stormed one of such homes somewhere in Aba from where they were able to rescue thirty-eight teenage girls. Thirty-six of them are pregnant while two others had just delivered. “That same day, we raided another one at Obingwa from where four girls were rescued. This brought the total number of girls to forty-one,” Alabi said.
The state government stepped in and provided a place to house the girls for about a week, until they were released on bail to their families. With most of the cases and narrations from the girls it was discovered that some of them are orphaned or do not associate with their families and so are vulnerable. Some others simply didn’t want to leave the place.
Chioma, 15, who had been there since December could barely speak. She was still weak from being operated upon to deliver her baby. For another girl who was crying and couldn’t compose herself enough to say her name, Weekly Trust was told that she had a baby a few days ago and when she asked about him, she was told he had died, only for her to discover later that he had been sold off.
Our reporter learnt that ‘mouth-watering’ propositions, promises to care for them and give them a good life were made, as well as an assurance that after the baby is born they will be able to carry on from there with a normal life. But at the end of the day they are given from N10, 000 to N15, 000. The babies eventually get sold off for N300, 000 or N400, 000 depending on the gender of the baby. Males usually fetch a higher price tag.
A shocking revelation in the course of investigation is the fact that for many of the victims it is a business venture and their major means of livelihood. Some of them have gone into it no fewer than three times, sometimes earning N20, 000 per baby. Also, they receive N1,500 per week as feeding allowance as well as the fact that they do not have to pay for the squalid accommodation provided. Last year alone, more than six of such illegal homes were sealed and more than one hundred such victims rescued. Some of the girls, upon interrogation, confessed that they had just been delivered of their babies and that they did not know what became of the infants. Also, one of the girls went through a Cesarean Section that left a deep gash in her stomach which appeared to be septic.
Weekly Trust, upon investigation, found out that many girls lost their lives in the process of childbearing due to unprofessional handling. A proprietress, in law enforcement custody, confessed that since she started her home, she has sold up to eighteen babies.
Is it possible for a mother to go through nine months of pregnancy, give birth, breast feed and not have any reluctance with giving up that child? Mrs. Christy Oka, a mother herself and psychologist answered: “Some people say if you have a baby and have not breast-fed it, you don’t feel any attachment. Therefore, giving him up would not be a difficult task to achieve. But I say that is an absolute lie. It is not possible for any woman, psychologically, emotionally or physically to let go of her baby in that manner with no reaction whatsoever. Except in some cases where it is premeditated and the mother is cold-hearted. But in the case of these girls, it could be naivety.” Also, poverty could be a forceful factor to make young girls behave in such a manner, Oka added.
Listening to some of the girls talk, it is clear how much loyalty they have to Dr. Orikara and consider him a savior to their plights. Alabi added that the girls were very difficult to handle and keep under control. “Many of them have gone wild and it seemed like they have been brain-washed.” Medical personnel had to do rounds of examinations and checks on the girls to ensure they had a clean bill of health.
The National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) spokesperson, Mr. Arinze Orakuwe, explained that over time, they have convened with stakeholders in the South-South and South-East to review adoption laws and strengthen oversight functions. “We believe that if the ministry’s responsibilities extend to social welfare and if adoption law and procedures are available, people will go through them rather than patronize such fraudulent practices,” Orakwue added. Another catalyst for the growth of such illegal, he said, was as a result of the preference for male children. “At the moment Abia and Imo states have the highest numbers of such illegal homes in the country,” he said.
President of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council, Dr. Prosper Igboeli told Weekly Trust: “These practices are absolutely against the ethics of the medical profession. The Council has an Investigative Panel (IP) which handles all inappropriate practices and it has been working on this matter for some time now. Reports need to be put together from the investigations carried out.” Igboeli also added that the case is not peculiar to Abia alone, but cuts across the country. As to what will be done to such characters as Dr. Orikara he said, “They will face stiff penalties which include facing the medical tribunal and stripping them of their right to practice.” But Nnabue Smith, a civil servant shook his head, saying: “While councils and panels drag on, some other gullible young girls are being cheated, their lives being destroyed. What this matter needs is action, hard and fast.”
Written by Adie Vanessa Offiong who was in Umuahia, Weekly, Daily Trust