"Do you want the baby with or without the placenta?"
The woman who calls herself “Mama” looks at us and clairifies whether we want a “fresh” baby.
We meet her in the dark and simple office of her half-burned baby factory.
She thinks we want to buy a baby, but in fact we are carrying a hidden camera.
Every year, the Nigerian police discover several new baby factories. Women are held captive to give birth to babies destined to be sold illegally either to adoptive parents, rituals, or slavery.
Large parts of the trade are conducted locally in Nigeria, but the police suspect that children also have been sold to Europe and the USA.
Nevertheless, many countries continue to adopt children from Nigeria. Since 2008, at least 78 Nigerian adoptions have occurred in Sweden, according to statistics from Adoptionscentrum. These children have special needs and are most probably not from the baby factories, but the phenomenon is well known. International adoption agencies claim that the children, their parents and the entire adoption process is overseen by the Nigerian government. But in Nigeria there are no such guaranties.
Today, in an exclusive story, Expressen reveals how the baby-trafficking from Nigeria works.
With a hidden camera, we have infiltrated several of the baby factories in southern Nigeria. To get access to the factories, we claimed to be interested in buying a child and that we wanted to meet the pregnant women in order to choose the mother of our baby, and also that we were from an organization called Home of Hope that wanted to have future business relations with the baby factories.
It takes us just three days to establish contact with several agents that are part of the baby trafficking networks. They claim to be able to get us babies by the following day. One of the agents mentions that an infant, due to be born in a couple of days, is meant to go to a couple in Spain but could be ours since we are on location.
“They won't notice if they get another baby,” says Frank, the agent that we meet in the city of Umuahia.
“Do you want a girl or a boy? Twins perhaps?”
We say that we want to go to the factories, see the women, and then decide if we want to go through with the deal.
“Oh, that is hard. There has been a lot of trouble with the police and the women are hidden. But we give them food, shelter and sleep with them so they keep calm. I'm a father to many of the sold children, haha. But I'm going to try to solve this.”
The next day we meet up with another agent in the city of Aba. She knows of many baby factories and immediately gives us the addresses.
The first baby factory we visit is situated in a small village, an hour outside of Aba. It's hot and we're nervous. We are on our way to meet people who are willing to sell children for money, in other words hardened criminals. We are worried that they are going to discover the hidden camera or not believe our cover-story about Home of Hope. We have already decided it is worth the risk. The tall gate is locked when we arrive. We park the car close to the wall to ensure an escape route if we are caught. Finally a guard opens the gate. Almost all buildings are burnt to the ground and two Volvos have been scrapped in the yard. Over the car doors small children’s shirts are hung to dry. Behind one of the burnt down walls we can spot a couple of mattresses and a fire with a pot hanging over it. A couple of minutes later we see the first pregnant woman. After a short period of time we have counted five pregnant women pacing back and forth.
An older woman enters through the gate. She introduces herself as "Mama" and asks us to follow her to the office. We explain our business. She lights up when we start talking business and dollars.
4000 for a girl, 4400 for a boy
“I have five women here but 35 in another house in Umuahia. You can go there and see. But we have to talk to my son 'cause we run this together,” she says.
She tells us that she charges 4000 dollar for a girl and 4400 dollar for a boy.
“I give the girls food and shelter and help them with their physical exams. The same day they give birth they go away, she says.”
She claims to be able to get children of all ages and genders and at any time. She can also arrange court orders and deal with the police.
“I delivered three babies yesterday and they have already been picked up by Nigerians.”
At this point she looks at us and asks:
“Do you want the baby with or without the placenta?”
We quickly gather ourselves and ask if there is a price difference, but no, there isn't. She states that we will have a "fresh" baby, not older than 24 hours.
She brings us back to the burnt down buildings, to meet the five pregnant women living there.
“As you can see it's all burnt down. The cops came and burnt it all. They cause a lot of problems nowadays. That is why I hide the other 35 women at another place. It is safer.”
In the yard we get the chance to talk to two women, 28 and 21 years old, both in their last stages of pregnancy. They say they have become pregnant by mistake and that they cannot live at home. They hide during their pregnancy and then return home as soon as they can. When we ask if they want to give their babies for adoption, they answer:
“You handle the business with Mama.”
"I want my child to have a good life"
We end the visit by telling "Mama" that we want to visit the 35 girls. She agrees to try to set this up.
As we leave the place our Nigerian phone rings. It's one of the women. She whispers and asks me not to tell "Mama" that she called.
“I want you to adopt my baby. If it is handled by "Mama" I don't know what will happen. I want my child to have a good life.”
She also says that she most of all wants to keep her baby, but that she cannot afford it.
We answer that we have to think about it.
The next day we contact yet another baby factory in Aba. To get there we have to walk through simple, poor neighbourhoods. We are guided by a woman who knows the owners of the baby factory. She walks quickly. We are sweating and the walk worries us. If they expose us, we'll have a long way back to the car. But we continue and soon the woman points at a gate with a large sign saying "Apostolic church". We wonder if we understood her right, but the agent knocks on the jade metal door.
The door is opened by a young man who welcomes us and introduces us to his mother, Love, and his father, Bro Nkem. They run the baby factory.
The first thing we see when we get inside the compound is a couple of pregnant women, several small children and a woman who has just given birth with her newborn baby in her arms. Rusty cribs stand along the walls. Above one of the rooms hangs a sign saying ”favour” and inside the door we see an examining table. Love says that she delivers the babies there.
We visit their place twice and the couple are very interested in Home of Hope, they see great potential to make large amounts of money. They tell us exactly how they work.
“We can get any amount of babies. If you need two tomorrow, we simply get it,” says Bro.
“We have had other international couples buying babies, both from England and USA. They paid 1.2 million naira (7 500 USD) for a boy,” he continues.
“How much for a girl?” we ask.
“800,000 naira (5 050 USD),” Love answers.
They mention that they have had problems with the police and that Love has been arrested a lot. But she is always released.
“If they come here we give them 300,000 naira (1 900 USD) and the problem goes away, Bro says.
They also say that they have all the documentation from the social security administration. They show us diplomas and documents that appear to show their work is legitimate. All of it is bought.
“The court is no problem, don't worry. We'll handle it,” Bro says.
“You have a church, could that become a problem to Home of Hope?”
“No, that is just for security. If the military come we simply say that we have a church and that we are helping those in need. Sometimes some delegates from Germany come here and give us money.”
“What happens if the girls wants their babies back?”
“It won't happen. We take care of the girls. Don't worry,” Love says.
She looks at us sternly and says:
“We run a “cash and carry” business. The girls never see the babies.”
“If a girl is strong, can she get pregnant more than once?” I ask.
“Yes, no problem.”
They start talking about the babies as if it is a market.
“You can decide if you want a tall, short, smart mother. Do you want the babies to have dark or light skin?’
We repeat that we want to see the women, not the babies. Finally they lead us to the back of the house.
We walk down a long corridor. We hear infants crying.
“This is the old part of the business, but we are growing. More and more people want to buy children,” says Bro.
The corridor opens onto a small courtyard with an unfinished building at the back. At least 10 pregnant women sit, stand and lie around. There are worn and dirty mattresses on the floor. Bro points out two women who are close to giving birth. He says the women are forbidden from leaving the house because then they risk exposing the baby factory.
“We can have at least 10 women here but we could expand if demands increase,” he emphasizes.
A young girl who barely lifts her head stands behind the other women. We can't bear it and ask if she is all right. She looks at us and strokes her stomach. With a low voice she answers that she is OK. Her body language speaks otherwise: grief.
“She gave birth yesterday, the child is gone but we do not talk to her about it. Now she must leave,” says Bro.
Used in rituals
Besides selling babies to childless couples, there are some indications that sold children are used in rituals. In some parts of Nigeria it is still believed that a powder made of infants brings luck.
“How do you know that the sold children aren't used in rituals?” we ask when leaving the women.
“We don't, we do not ask any questions,” Bro says.
Mama, Bro, Love and all the agents we encounter say that the women in their factories are there by their own free will: that they have gotten pregnant by mistake and can't return home. They protect them by giving them food and shelter until they can return to their parents.
But at the police station in the city of Owerri another side of the story emerges.
Inspector Katsina informs us that they have discovered several factories in which the women have been forced to become pregnant more than once. Others wanted to keep their baby but were then told that it was dead.
“We have recently saved 106 children. We are trying to locate the mothers but it is time-consuming and difficult,” he says.
In the background six women are brought into his office. All carry infants.
“All these persons are suspected for childtrafficking. We are trying to find the mothers but at the moment the children have to stay in the prison with the women,” Katsina continues.
He is angry.
“They are Satan. It is a completely horrible business that started as homes for women who needed help, and has now been taken over by criminals who just want to make money. At the moment we are investigating several cases,” he says.
New cell-phone as compensation
Two men and one woman in handcuffs are brought in. A young woman stands in front of them and speaks.
“When I got pregnant I went to my father who is a pastor. At first he demanded an abortion but I refused. He then took me to a doctor in Port Harcourt,” says Chamaka, 17, and points at one of the men.
“I had to be there until my baby was delivered. The next day the doctor came and snatched the baby out of my arms. Then he gave the baby to that woman over there, she took off in a red car with my baby,” she says and points at the woman that later is revealed to be a suspect in 18 cases of baby trafficking.
When Chamaka came home after the delivery, she got a new cell-phone as compensation from her father. She shows us the phone and throws it on the table.
“I later found out that he had bought it with the money he got for my daughter. I don't want a phone, I want my child,” Chamaka says holding back tears.
Katsina looks at the suspects and says that they have a lower standing than the pygmy goats in their village.
“Selling babies, what kind of person does that? I'm going to find Chamaka's baby even if it means turning the whole of Nigeria upside-down. If the child has been killed, I will find the one who killed it,” the police chief adds resolutely.
At the time of going to press he still hadn’t found Chamaka’s baby. But the police had made several raids and had high hopes of reuniting Chamaka with her daughter.
However, even if he finds the stolen baby, Katsina knows that the cases which reach the police are only the tip of the iceberg.
“There are many in their situation, we only hear about a few. We have to make sure that women who become pregnant don't get excommunicated and we have to stop the market demand for babies,” Katsina.
“But it seems that there are more and more children and that the market demand is increasing,” Katsina says.