At least 35 persons including 11 children and 24 pregnant women have been rescued from an illegal maternity home in Calabar, Cross River State, South-south Nigeria, government operatives said.
The rescue operation was carried out at the so-called “baby factory” by a security outfit, Operation Akpakwu, set up by Ben Ayade, Governor of the state to tackle all forms of illegality, especially kidnapping.
The outfit draws personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday, the outfit acted on a tip-off when its personnel uncovered the illegal maternity home where men were hired to impregnate the victims and then sell the newborns for profit.
One of the victims, Stella John, a teen alleged to be five months pregnant, said she was introduced to the place by a friend, whose name she refused to mention.
She claimed she received N2,000 weekly for her upkeep during her stay there.
Children born in so-called baby factories are often put up for adoption, forced into child labour or killed as part of rituals.
Stanley Ikepeme, the Officer Commanding 13 Brigade Provost, said two suspects were arrested in operation.
Handing over the victims and the suspects, on behalf of the 13 Brigade Commander, Mohammed Abdullahi, a Brigadier-General, to the officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) on Wednesday, Ikepeme said the Nigerian Army would not “relent in its task of ensuring peace and security in Cross River State.”
However, Fidelia Daniel, one of the suspects, who is believed to be the baby factory owner, denied wrongdoing, saying she did not know the factory.
Oba Jacobs, a NAPTIP official who received the victims and suspects, assured the suspects would be investigated and charged to court.
Jacobs urged Nigerians “to keep an eye on your neighbours and report suspicious activities to the agency for proper action”.
“As an agency, we have the mandate to arrest and prosecute.
“We also urge the public to assist us with useful information that would lead to the arrest of this category of people involved in this kind of racket,” Jacob said.
He said the agency has a facility in Calabar where suspects would be kept until an investigation is conducted and those found wanting would be made to face the law.
Sexual abuse and child trafficking are prevalent crimes in Nigeria. Critics say the implementation of child protection, human trafficking and sexual abuse laws by the Nigerian government has often taken a back seat in bringing perpetrators to book.
A Premium Times investigation in 2019 found that NAPTIP investigates and prosecutes only a few reported trafficking cases.
According to the report, in 2018, NAPTIP received 1,076 human trafficking and other related cases, 206 cases were investigated out of which only 75 were charged to court.
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