16-year-old Miriam was approached by an elderly woman at Madinatu, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state in 2019.
Aunty Kiki, the woman who approached her, asked her if she was interested in moving to the city of Enugu to work as a housemaid in exchange for cash.
Now 20, Miriam wasted no time in accepting the offer. She even lured another cousin of hers, Rhoda, into it. She met with Aunty Kiki, who consented to take her along. The two girls were excited about their new life.
“We were both very excited to travel to Enugu; we had suffered so much for four years and were happy to go somewhere new to start a new life,” Mariam said.
They spent a total of 21 hours with Aunty Kiki on the road to Enugu. When they arrived, Aunty Kiki took them to a compound and handed them over to an elderly woman called “Mma”.
“The compound had two flats of three bedrooms each, filled with young girls, some of them pregnant. Aunty Kiki said it was where we would be working,” Miriam said.
Miriam and Rhoda thought their jobs were to clean the compound and do household chores, just as Aunty Kiki led them to believe, but their new employers had other ideas.
They were told to stay alone in separate rooms the first night. Later that night, a man walked into Mariam’s room and raped her. The same thing happened to Roda.
The girls said they were raped almost daily by different men. Within a month, they got pregnant.
Almost a dozen girls were packed inside the compound when Miriam and Roda first arrived. But the number changed as the girls gave birth and were sent away, and then new girls were brought in to produce more children for the trafficking cartel.
When Miriam gave birth to a baby boy in the compound, her son was taken from her. Three days later, she was blindfolded and taken to a bus station, where her traffickers made sure she boarded a vehicle back to the north.
“They didn’t want me to know the way to the compound; that’s why they covered my face,” she explains. “I was given 20,000 naira to assist in my transportation to my destination.”
Miriam does not know how much her baby was sold for. According to Abang Robert from Caprecon Development and Peace Initiative, some traffickers let their victims leave after giving birth. These traffickers believe that if girls stay too long, they could develop a plan to expose the trade.
Frank Mba, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (SCID) Lagos, in a seminar organized by the Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria or CRAN, explained that the Baby factory is an illegal baby market, often masquerading as medical clinics, maternity homes and so on.
“Some mothers bring their babies for sale, while some were even brought to the factory without pregnancy and able-bodied men are made to impregnate them willingly or forcefully”
The ugly trend typifies Miriam and Rhoda’s ordeals, who are just two out of one million persons trafficked each year in Nigeria.
The ill of this exploitation
Women and girls caught up in these baby factory schemes are usually impoverished individuals lured by the promise of financial compensation.
Because of this, they are susceptible to manipulation and coercion by the human traffickers (like Aunty kiki and Mma).
The susceptibility is so intense that their lives are controlled and their humanity reduced. Experts say that the baby factory business reduces women to mere commodities. They are haunted by the knowledge that their child was taken from them, often without their consent.
The fate of the babies
The infants born in baby factories are the worst hit. As innocent as they may look when they take their first breath, they are torn from their biological families and forced into uncertain futures.
Many are sold on the black market to couples desperate to adopt, while others are forced into child labour or subjected to further exploitation.
This illegal production/ adoption market can lead to a demographic imbalance in the affected regions and may impact the nation’s population. Which in turn will affect labour supply and employment rate.
Can we ever win?
Addressing the tragedy of baby factory exploitation is an uphill battle. These operations thrive in the shadows, making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to track and dismantle them. Corruption, poverty, and a lack of awareness further complicate efforts to combat the menace.
Raising awareness about baby factory exploitation is crucial in combating the heart-wrenching problem. Governments, NGOs, and concerned individuals must work together to educate communities, provide support for survivors, and strengthen legislation to punish those involved in these illegal operations.
The tragedy of baby factory exploitation is a dark reality that continues to plague our world. Only through collective awareness, advocacy, and action can we hope to bring an end to this horrifying practice and provide justice and support for the survivors and victims of baby factory exploitation.