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$ 400 Child: How Trafficking in Children Stolen to Order Thrives in Africa


Source: Air force

The illegal trade in kidnapped children is rampant in Kenya. Program staff Bi-bi-si Africa Eye has managed to infiltrate criminal groups involved in the sale of babies. You can buy a child there for about $ 400.

Photo: Shutterstock

Rebecca's son is 10 years old. But that's all she knows about him now. Maybe he lives like her in Nairobi. Or somewhere else. But deep down, she suspects that her son may no longer be alive. The last time she saw her first child, Lawrence Josiah, was when he was only a year old and she was 16. It happened in March 2011, at two in the morning.

Rebecca dozed off after sniffing a handkerchief dipped in aviation fuel, which is sold on the streets of Nairobi as a cheap drug. She needed to pluck up the courage to start begging for money from passers-by. Rebecca was only 15 years old when her mother could no longer support her or pay for school, and as a result, the girl ended up on the street.

There she was noticed by an adult man who promised to marry her, but abandoned her as soon as she became pregnant. Rebecca gave birth to Lawrence Josiah. She raised the boy for just over a year until that fateful night when she was overwhelmed by sleep. She never saw her son again.

“I have other children,” Rebecca says, holding back tears, “but he was my first child, he made me a mother. I looked for him in all orphanages, I looked in Kiambu (a city in Kenya), I looked in Kaiola (the Nairobi area), but I never found it. "

Rebecca still lives on the same streets of Nairobi. After her son disappeared, she gave birth to three more children. She now has girls aged eight, six and four. Once a stranger tried to steal her youngest daughter. Before that, he had been wandering the surrounding streets for several days. In his defense, he stated that the one-year-old girl asked him to buy her some kind of drink. Then Rebecca followed him to the parking lot, where a woman was waiting for him. The next day he returned to the place of "hunting".

Rebecca's story is far from unique, especially among slum dwellers. Esther's three-year-old son disappeared in August 2018. “Since that day,” she said, “I have not had a moment's peace. Wherever I was not looking for him! I visited all orphanages up to Mombasa. ” Another mother, Carol, lost her two-year-old son five years ago, he was also kidnapped at night. “I loved him so much! I would forgive them if they returned my child! ”She says.

Child trafficking is flourishing in Nairobi. For a year, BBC Africa Eye reporters investigated a black market that buys and sells children abducted from homeless mothers at huge profits.

The BBC also found evidence that the illegal business involved employees of street polyclinics for the poor and even employees of large public hospitals helping to fulfill the order for the kidnapping. To identify those who abuse their position, the BBC decided to “buy” a child without parents. To do this, we contacted a hospital employee, who first completely legally transferred the custody of the baby to himself, and then directly sold it to us.

The most diverse strata of the Kenyan underworld are involved in kidnapping children - from drug addicts trying by any means to get money for the next dose to criminal gangs, and they often work in tandem. In the first group, there are many such characters as the alcoholic and drug addict Anita, who lives in the slums and steals children under three years old from mothers like Rebecca.

Our colleagues found out about Anita through her friend, who asked not to disclose her name and to call her Emma. According to Emma, ​​Anita has several ways to abduct the child.

“Sometimes she first engages in conversation with her mother to see if she is aware of her intentions,” said Emma. - Sometimes she slips her sleeping pills, or gives her a sniff of glue, and sometimes she just starts playing with the child. One way or another, but she gets her way. "

Pretending to be potential buyers, Africa Eye made an appointment with Anita at a bar in downtown Nairobi where street vendors often gather. She told us that her boss, a local entrepreneur, constantly pressured her to abduct as many children as possible. Anita did not hesitate to tell how she managed to steal another child: “The mother was on the street quite recently, and still did not know what was what. She entrusted me with her child, and now I have it ”.

The clients of the woman Anita works for are sometimes infertile couples - “for them it's like adoption,” she explains. But sometimes children are bought to be “sacrificed”.

“Yes,” Anita told us, “they are sacrificed, these children just disappear and no one else ever sees them.” Emma also spoke about this, vaguely hinting that some buyers take children "for rituals."

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But in fact, after Anita sells the child she stole, she no longer knows what happens to him next. From her “boss” she receives 50 shillings (about $ 460) for a girl and 80 ($ 730) for a boy. On average, on the streets of Nairobi, that is how much they pay for a kidnapped child.

“This lady (entrepreneur),” said Emma, ​​“does not say what she does with the children. I once asked Anita if she knew about their future fate, and she replied that she did not care at all whether they fell into the hands of sorcerers, or somewhere else. As long as she gets paid, she doesn't ask questions. ”

Shortly after the first meeting, Anita called us to the second. Once on the spot, we saw the baby in her arms. She said that this is a five-month-old girl whom she abducted just a few minutes ago, using her mother's trust.

“She gave it to me to hold it for a second and I immediately ran away with her,” Anita said, adding that she already had a buyer willing to pay 50 shillings. Then Emma tried to intervene, saying that she had a buyer willing to pay 80 thousand.

"Okay," Anita agreed, "we'll do everything tomorrow."

The meeting was scheduled for five o'clock in the evening. As the child's life was in danger, we notified the police, who were going to arrest Anita and rescue the child as soon as the deal was completed. Most likely, this was the last opportunity to save the girl.

But Anita never came to the meeting place. We searched for her unsuccessfully for several days, but Emma was able to find her - and only after a few weeks. She told her that she had found a buyer who offered even more, and she had already spent the money to build herself a two-room tin “house” in one of the slums. The child disappeared without a trace. The kidnapping case remains open.

"Let's say we do it"

Kenya has no credible statistics on child trafficking, no government reports, no nationwide investigations. Organizations looking for missing children lack funds and people.

One of the very few places mothers of abducted children can go to is Missing Child of Kenya, an NGO founded by Mariana Muniendo. For four years of work, its employees have investigated about 600 such cases.

“This is a huge problem in Kenya,” she said, “but almost no one talks about it. We only saw the tip of the iceberg. The point is that this issue is not considered a priority when planning a social protection program. ”

This is partly due to the fact that the victims of such crimes are women who have no money, no social status, or any other opportunity to attract the attention of the media and the authorities.

“The silence of such crimes is directly related to the economic status of the victims,” stressed Mariana. “They have no means, no ways of influence, no access to information that would allow them to go where they need to and demand that someone seriously take up the disappearance of their children.”

The child trafficking market is flourishing in many ways due to the social stigmatization of women with infertility. According to Mariana, infertility for a woman in an African family is just a disaster.

“They expect of you that you will give birth to a child, and a son, of course. Otherwise, you may be thrown out of the house. And then what is left to do? Only steal the child. "

It is very likely that a woman in such an unenviable position will be brought up with someone like Anita's boss, or directly with a hospital employee.

An investigation by the Africa Eye program has shown that some child trafficking crime groups operate their businesses directly from major government hospitals.

Through an intermediary we managed to reach Fred Leparan, a social worker at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital. According to his position, he is obliged to worry about children from disadvantaged families born there. However, according to the mediator, Leparan is directly linked to child trafficking. Our source contacted him under the pretext that he knew a woman who was desperate to buy a baby because she never got pregnant.

“I have one boy in the hospital,” Leparan replied. "They brought him two weeks ago, and they never came back for him."

According to the source, this is not the first time that Leparan organized the sale of a child.

“The last incident scared me,” he admitted during a meeting recorded by Africa Eye. “Let's say, if we do this, I need a clear plan so that I don't have any problems in the future.”

In theory, children abandoned in hospitals should be transferred to state orphanages, from where they are officially sent to guardians who have previously undergone thorough checks. But when Fred Leparan and other social workers like him sell children illegally, no one has the slightest idea what happens to them next.

One of the local journalists working with Africa Eye met with Leparan at an office near the hospital. She introduced herself as a woman named Rose and said that she had been married for a long time, but she had not succeeded in getting pregnant, and her husband's family was pressuring her, demanding to have a child.

"Have you tried to adopt a child?" Leparan asked.

“We thought about it, but somehow it's too difficult,” replied “Rose”.

Then Leparan agreed to help her, saying that the child would cost her 300 thousand shillings (about 2,7 thousand US dollars). “If we complete this deal, then only the three of us will know about it,” he said, pointing to himself, Rose and the middleman. - It is difficult to trust someone, it is a big risk. It worries me very much. " After that, Leparan promised that he would get in touch to arrange the sale.

Photo: Shutterstock

Adama's Choice

In addition to street kidnappers such as Anita and corrupt government officials such as Leparan, organized child trafficking has another source of “goods”. There are many illegal clinics in the slums of Nairobi, where there are also maternity wards. Everyone knows that these homebrew hospitals are the place to buy and sell newborn babies.

Local journalist Judith Kanayta, an employee of Ghetto Radio, went at the request of the BBC to such an illegal clinic located in Kaiola, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Nairobi. According to Judith, child trafficking is literally thriving there. This "clinic" was run by a certain Mari Ayuma, who, in her own words, used to work as a nurse in one of the largest hospitals in the Kenyan capital.

Judith said she wanted to buy a baby. Just at this time, two women were awaiting childbirth in the clinic.

“This one,” Ayuma whispered, “she is already in her ninth month of pregnancy and is almost ready to give birth.”

She then offered Judith to buy an unborn child for 45 shillings (about $ 412). What would happen to her mother after giving birth, Ayuma did not care at all: “She will receive the money and leave. We always tell them clearly that it will be impossible to return everything back ”.

The woman whose unborn child was being sold by Ayuma was called Adama. She had no money at all. The child's father abandoned her, just as happened with Rebecca. Due to her pregnancy, she lost her job at a construction site, as she could no longer carry heavy bags of cement. For three months the owner of the apartment where she lived did not touch her, after which he nevertheless threw her out into the street and boarded the door so that she could not return.

Therefore, Adama decided to sell her child. But Mari Ayuma was not at all going to pay Adama the very 45 thousand that she demanded from us. The mother was promised a much smaller amount - 10 shillings (about $ 100).

“It was terribly dirty there,” said Adama when our colleagues spoke to her after she returned to the village. - She collected blood in a small vessel, even the sink was not there. But I was already in complete despair, I had no choice. "

According to Adama, after our visit to the clinic, Mari Ayuma caused her to give birth by forcing her to swallow two pills: she was so eager to complete the sale, since a buyer appeared. However, the birth proved to be difficult, the baby needed urgent medical attention, and Adam was told to go with him to the hospital for some treatment. Two weeks later, Adam and the child were discharged. She wrote SMS to Ayuma, and she sent us the following message: “A new package was born. 45000 ".

Back at the clinic, Adama met with Ayuma and her assistant again. “They said that the baby looks fine and if he fits the client, they will pick him up right away.” Adama agreed to sell her child not from a good life, but now she has doubts.

“I don’t want to sell my child to someone who cannot take care of him, or to someone who uses him for dark deeds,” she said.

As a result, Adama left the clinic with her son and left him in a large state children's hospital. There he will live until foster parents are found for him and a better life begins.

Adama never received the money that she badly needed. She now lives alone, far from Nairobi. Sometimes she sees her son in a dream, wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks about his fate. Sometimes, if she never gets to sleep again, she goes out on the road in the dark and walks along it until she meets someone who is also awake.

But she does not regret her choice: “I am not worried about the fate of my son. I'm glad I gave him to the government and that he is safe now. ”

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Hospital deal

Fred Leparan, a social worker at a public hospital, called us and said that he had found a child abandoned by his mother, whom he could steal on our order. This boy was one of three children awaiting departure to the nearest orphanage. Leparan's job was to get them there safely.

Leparan knew perfectly well that the administration of the Mama Lucy hospital was unlikely to check whether the children really made it to the orphanage or disappeared along the way. He filled out all the necessary documents and chatted a little about trifles with the hospital staff, who did not even suspect that the child was being stolen literally in front of them.

Rose was waiting in the car outside the hospital door. Leparan told the nurses that she worked in an orphanage and told them to take the children to her. True, he was noticeably worried, but he assured our colleagues that the nurses would not follow them.

“Don't worry, they have plenty of work to do,” he said, but told them to leave as soon as possible: “If we continue to chat here, they will start to suspect us.”

As a result, the BBC team drove away from the hospital doors with three babies, of which only two had to get to the orphanage. The third child, theoretically, could be in the hands of anyone - anywhere.

Of course, we took all three to the orphanage, where they will be safe and where they will find their legal adoptive parents.

In the afternoon of the same day, Leparan called “Rose”, told her to leave the agreed 300 thousand on the table, and also instructed her that she should contact the specialist in baby food and make sure that the boy's vaccinations did not become inflamed. He ended the conversation by once again urging her to be very, very careful.

The BBC tried to get comment from Leparan on the deal, but he declined to speak. The hospital also declined all interview requests. Apparently, Leparan remained at the same place of work.

We also reported on the illegal activities of Mari Ayuma to NGOs involved in the protection of children's rights, which in turn reported this to the police. But it looks like she's still running at her clinic. She also avoided meeting with the BBC.

Anita could not be indicted either, as she managed to disappear into the slums without a trace again.

Well, the mothers of the kidnapped children will probably have to come to terms with the fact that they will never see them again. Some of them continue to hope for a miracle, although deep down they perfectly understand that it will not happen. Rebecca said she would give anything just to see her son, or at least know for sure that he died.

Last year, she heard that someone in one of the distant suburbs of Nairobi saw a boy very similar to her eldest daughter, Laurence's sister Josiah. Rebecca knew that it was most likely not him. In addition, she did not have the slightest opportunity to get to this suburb, and even if she did get to it, it was not clear where exactly to look for the child. True, she went to the local police station, but she received no help there either. So in the end she was left with nothing again.

“There is only one chance in a million that these women will see their children,” says Mariana Muniendo of Kenya's Missing Child NGO. "Many of these mothers are still children themselves, and criminals take advantage of their naivety and inexperience."

In addition, victims of crime such as Rebecca are not particularly sympathetic to society.

“But you can't think that slum dwellers don't have feelings,” Mariana continued, “that they don't deserve justice. Mothers living in wealthy suburbs yearn for their children just like mothers in slums. ”

Some children who are kidnapped on the streets will end up in just such wealthy houses. Sometimes Rebecca thinks of women raising children whom they know very well have been stolen from someone else.

“What are they thinking? She asks. - What do they feel?

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