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Ten percent couples unable to bear children are target customers
In the absence of an adoption law, illegal buying and selling of babies have become an established business in Dhaka and outside.
Stories of trading babies got the national attention when in 2006, law enforcers rounded up 14 children from former Deputy Inspector General Anisur Rahman’s residence. Rahman claimed that they were all his children. But as seven of these 14 children were of about the same age, the issue underwent further investigation.
After DNA tests confirmed that none of the seven children were related to each other or to Rahman, a court decided that Rahman and his wife had stolen the seven children with an eye for trafficking them abroad.
Here lies the big fear in the dynamic; that children are being exploited and trafficked. It appears, however, that there is possibly a simpler and more humane motive behind the matter.
Ten percent of couples are unable to have children of their own, according to former chief of the Gynaecology department at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), and such couples are buying babies to raise as their own.
There are three broad groups in the system — buyers, sellers and middle men.
Buyers are of all types. Some are rich, some poor, most are incapable of having children while some already have enough but want more.
Sellers are a far more select group. Poor women often homeless and/or sex workers desperate to make ends meet make up the bulk of mothers willing to sell their children.
Finally, there are middlemen who seek out vulnerable women and for a fee (usually much higher than what the actual mother is paid) arrange to find young children a new family.
The late Moushimi Begum, who ran Moushimi Clinic on Nazimuddin Road said that her clinic had arranged 24 off-the-book adoptions five years ago. She felt that she was doing something good. The mothers of those children were fully informed of the situation, and were not in an economic situation to provide well for the children they chose to give up, while the buyers were better equipped to be parents and desperate for children. Moushimi added that she made very little money from the transactions, and felt the arrangements she made were the best for all concerned parties.
One of the central hubs for this type of deal is DMCH. As the largest public hospital in the country, many poor, pregnant women go there some even for abortions.
A hospital source said that a network of attendant ayas, some nurses and other hospital staff approach vulnerable, expectant mothers and attempt to persuade them to part with their unborn children. Typically, mothers and their relatives — are shown the disadvantages of keeping the baby and the advantages of selling them.
The source added that this was a fairly common practice with about one or two such cases occurring a month; but it was difficult to catch the perpetrators since the final exchange of the child occurs after the mother has been discharged from the hospital’s care.
Other methods of arranging transactions centre round areas with a large concentration of homeless women. Middlemen search for pregnant women in areas such as Osmani Uddyan (park), Kamalapur Railway Station and Gulistan Stadium area. They then persuade the women to sell their babies, promising support in the meanwhile.
The price of a baby has gone up over time. Five years ago, Tk. 9,000 to 15,000 was sufficient. Today, the price ranges from Tk. 10,000 to 50,000. This is due to a series of arrests and raids on clinics arranging child selling over the last three years.
One three-month pregnant woman named Rupa, found a host of middlemen bidding against each other for her unborn child. She finally chose a comfortable arrangement in which all her expenses were taken care of for the remaining six months of her pregnancy, as well as a further two months after it.
The big fear remains what becomes of these children? Deputy Commissioner at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Masudur Rahman says that though stories of trafficking are common, there is little evidence to support it. Rahman maintains that the entire operation is more like organised, illegal adoption, but opines that as it is illegal it should be punished.