Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Baby Trade

 Kenya — In this country of widespread poverty, one of the most lucrative businesses is also one of the most heartbreaking: baby trafficking. Kenya hosts one of the biggest child trafficking markets in West Africa, said Prudence Mutiso, an attorney with the Cradle Children Foundation. It is common in Kayole, a slum in the capital here, for gangs to steal or buy infants from mothers who are told their child had died or who can't afford to have more children. Fueling the trade are couples seeking to adopt children, kidnappers extracting ransoms from families desperate to reclaim their little ones and the economic value of children forced into labor. Children in Kenya can fetch between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on their gender, race and tribe — far more than the $1,246 annual income the average Kenyan earns.

"I witnessed a case where a woman wanted to sell her twins," said Julia Kattam, a health clinic administrator in Kayole. "She could not afford to feed them."

Lucy Wamboi, a Kayole resident who has helped friends try to find their missing children, said health workers sometimes participate in the trade. "The cost for a baby boy may be higher because they are in demand here," Wamboi said. "We've seen doctors selling babies to mothers." A trafficking scheme involves couples who place requests to adopt babies at Kayole clinics before they are born. Doctors who traffic in infants tell new mothers their babies didn't survive, and then fill the orders. In December, officials arrested Joseph Kangari, a local doctor who owns a clinic, and charged him and other staff with kidnapping and trafficking. Police said he was offering maternity services illegally and selling infants to infertile women.

he rush of poor Kenyans from the countryside into its sprawling cities is increasing the market, while traffickers commonly ferry young girls ages 10 to 14 from rural areas to Nairobi for prostitution and forced marriage, Mutiso said. "Poverty and lack of knowledge on trafficking are some of the factors contributing to trafficking," Mutiso added. The prosecution rate of offenders is low, she added. Prosecutors brought only 43 child-trafficking cases to court out of 200 cases reported to the foundation, according to a recent Cradle Children report. Only a handful resulted in convictions.

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