ENUGU, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian police said on Thursday they had broken a major baby trafficking ring, arresting a doctor believed to have bought infants from pregnant women and sold them at a profit for more than 20 years.
Police in the southeastern city of Enugu arrested Kenneth Akunne along with 20 pregnant women aged 18-20 during a raid last week on his Uzuoma Clinic.
“The doctor is notorious and has been in the trade of selling babies for over 20 years now,” Desmond Agwu, Enugu state commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, told Reuters.
The arrests were made after officers stopped a taxi during a routine search and found a woman with a day-old baby she said she had bought for 340,000 naira (1,483 pounds) from Akunne’s clinic.
Uzuoma Clinic is one of scores of illegal “baby farms” in southeastern Nigeria, where infants are sold to people desperate for children and ready to pay to avoid the red-tape of the country’s adoption laws.
Despite being the world’s eighth-biggest exporter of crude, most people in Nigeria live on less than $2 a day. Apart from the illicit trade in babies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.
Many in Africa’s most populous country see childlessness as a curse, boosting demand for the illicit baby trade.
Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking agency NAPTIP said Akunne paid the women 35,000-50,000 naira (151-216 pounds) to give up their babies. Boys are more expensive than girls.
“When we spoke to the doctor, he claimed that he was only helping the ladies, taking care of them and relieving them of their unwanted babies,” Ijeoma Okoronkwo, NAPTIP’s Enugu director, told Reuters.
“They are all very young girls wanting to hide away from the shame of adolescent pregnancy and the doctor provided a safe haven for them,” she said, adding Akunne was a qualified medic.
Some of the women, who said they went to the clinic because they did not want to keep their babies, accused Akunne of physical abuse.
Authorities in Nigeria suspect some people buy babies to use their body parts in rituals by witch doctors who they believe can make them instant millionaires. Others have been trafficked to Europe — especially the United Kingdom — where they are used in welfare fraud schemes, rights groups say.
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Writing by Tume Ahemba; Editing by Nick Tattersall