The prevalence of illegal trade in babies in Nigeria confirms that our society has imposed, and continues to impose, significant physical and attitudinal barriers preventing the full participation of certain vulnerable persons in everyday life. Of note, baby factories or child harvesting is an emerging crime in developing countries such as Nigeria, Somalia, Indonesia, Sudan and India. Further, it encompasses heinous crimes such as baby breeding, forced impregnation, sales of babies, illegal adoption and human trafficking. This greed to amass wealth, while averting stigmatization and discrimination, often overlooks the trite point that a child has an equal right as an adult to lead a decent life. Succinctly, even as our sense of morality degenerates, the fear of being maltreated as an alien haunts ladies conceiving out of wedlock and likewise barren women who patronize baby factories. Poverty, unemployment, lack of self esteem and ignorance are contributory factors to the rise of this social menace, as young girls or women in search of comfort, and others in order to earn a living exchange their dignity for a paltry sum while giving up their child. Victims of this illicit trade are usually sold out like common household upholsteries and subjected to exploitative farm labour, domestic work, hawking, begging and prostitution; while some are used for money rituals.
The emergence of the revered title of- ‘baby mama’, which is now a lucrative trade, overlooks the welfare of the child, since such is only seen as an object of trade as is also the case with baby factories, usually camouflaged as maternity homes, orphanages, social welfare homes and clinics operated by well-organised groups whose proprietors are similarly addressed as- ‘mama’. Hence, where the target of a ‘baby mama’ declines responsibility for the product of the ill conceived amorous relationship, such product becomes a victim of circumstance suffering similar fate as products of baby factories. We should not forget that some ‘baby mamas’ go the extra mile of using intoxicants, rape, stealthing(the act of non-consesually removing a condom during s3x), blackmail and threats simply to capture their affluent preys.
However, the questions begging for answers are as follows: What legislations are in place to checkmate this menace? Considering the rise of this menace, can it be said that the legislations are mere pieces of paper not deserving of the pulp graciously accommodating them? To properly situate the subject matter of this discourse, it is necessary to give a précis of the relevant provisions in the extant legislations.
The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement & Administration Act (as amended in 2015) which establishes the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was purposely enacted in order to domesticate the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted by the General Assembly resolution 55/25. Section 21 of the Act provides: “Any person who buys, sells, hires, lets or otherwise obtains the possession or disposal of any person with intent, knowing it to be likely or having reasons to know that such a person will be subjected to exploitation, commit an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than 5 years and a fine of not less than N2, 000,000.00”
The lacuna herein is expanding this provision to cover the deliberate act of bringing forth a child into the world for no other intent but to use same as an object of trade for self aggrandizement(common with baby factories) or regardless of knowledge that the victim will be subjected to exploitation(common with ‘baby mamas’) when the provision merely penalize selling or buying of another person for exploitative means. Hence, an amendment of the Act is desireable to specifically criminalize this menace particularly since baby harvesting and ‘baby mamas’ engage in this trade for exploitative purposes. However, judicial activism is expedient to curb baby harvesting and its newly evolved disguised form- ‘baby mamas’ since law is a veritable instrument of social engineering.
Happily, Sec. 28 of Child Rights Act provides that no child shall be employed as a domestic help outside his own home or family environment, while section 30 provides that no person shall buy, sell hire, let dispose of or obtain possession of or otherwise deal in a child. Remarkably, Sec. 54(5) of Nigeria’s Labour Act defines-“child” to include both a legitimate and an illegitimate child. In addition, Section 206, Criminal Law Of Lagos State 2011 states that it is the duty of every person who as master or mistress and has contracted to provide necessary food, clothing, lodging or medical treatment for any employee or apprentice under the age of eighteen (18) years to provide the same; and he shall be held to have caused any consequence which results to the life or health of the employee or apprentice by reason of any omission to perform that duty. Succinctly, without an iota of pessimism, it is apt to restate that enforcement of these laudable provisions complementing the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement &Administration Act to address this menace of illegal trade in babies will be better fostered when there is political commitment, sincerity of purpose and greater publicity.
In conclusion, all barriers, which prevent the effective participation of victims in the society as free born, must be removed. This is a collective responsibility since these baby factories are usually in discreet places, requiring whistle blowing for discovery.
- Ogunjobi, a lawyer, writes in from Jireh & Greys Attorneys in Lagos.
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