Nigeria police break suspected baby-trafficking ring

ONITSHA, Nigeria Thu Jun 2, 2011 11:27am EDT

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ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Police in Nigeria have arrested a doctor and 32 pregnant teenage girls who authorities believe belonged to a human-trafficking ring in which babies were sold for adoption or for rituals.

Hyacinth Orikara, a doctor at the Heda clinic in Aba in the southeastern state of Abia, was arrested along with the girls during a raid last weekend which followed a tip-off that infants were being "farmed" and sold, police said on Thursday.

"He was arrested along with 32 pregnant teenage girls found in his clinic," Abia police spokesman Geoffery Ogbonna said.

Orikara told police the clinic was an adoption agency meant to help teenagers with unwanted pregnancies and that the babies were usually handed over to the social welfare office. But police said he could not mention any specific office.

The girls, aged between 15 and 17, told police they were offered between 25,000 and 30,000 naira ($160-190) for their babies, depending on the sex. Some said they were directed to the clinic by friends who had been there before.

Police said the 33 suspects would either be charged on Friday or handed over to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) for further investigations.

Officials say infants are sometimes sold for as much as 340,000 naira to people desperate for babies. Many in Africa's most populous country see childlessness as a curse.

Authorities also suspect some people buy babies to use their body parts in rituals by witch doctors who they believe can make them instant millionaires. Others have been trafficked to Europe -- especially the United Kingdom -- where they are used in welfare fraud schemes, rights groups say.

Despite being the world's eighth-biggest crude oil exporter, most people in Nigeria live on less than $2 a day. Apart from illegal adoption agencies, Nigeria also faces the problem of domestic and international trafficking in women and children.

The police in 2008 broke a major baby trafficking ring and arrested a doctor who was believed to have been buying infants from pregnant girls and selling them at a profit for more than two decades.

(Writing by Tume Ahemba; editing by Nick Tattersall and Elizabeth Fullerton)

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