Slave Trade! Children Bought And Sold In Nigeria
Are you looking for babies for outright purchase? Or are you in need of children to serve as maids? You don't need to search further. In the heart of Lagos, a camp exists, where babies, young girls and boys are figuratively on sale. All you need is to pay and take them away without even signing any document.
Investigation by Saturday Sun undercover reporter revealed that kids are brought from villages, in the South East, with the consent of their parents, who are only interested in money and not the welfare or safety of their wards, and camped in houses in Lagos, from where are be given out to anybody who can afford the fee.
Checks showed that some of the kids, who are serving as maids or hawkers for their 'slave owners' do not go home to see their parents. And those who did, after many years, especially young girls, are told by their parents not to bother returning, unless they find husbands.
T o unearth this child trafficking cum slavery ring, Saturday Sun reporter, visited the baby shops, with a lady who posed as a prospective 'buyer.' The lady negotiated and issued a cheque to 'buy' a day-old baby.
The experiences of the victims and the reporter's task to unravel these racket would simply shock you stiff.
The racket Investigation revealed that most of these children are taken from their families, in far villages, to generate funds in the big city. Topping the chart are kids from Ebonyi State. Greedy parents and relatives give out these underage children for as low as N5,000. The children are 'sold' to interested buyers as domestic servants, while others end up being sexually and physically exploited by their masters, giving room to modern slavery. Tired of being abused, most of them run from their slave masters and fend for themselves through hawking. Others, especially the girls, fall into the hands of men who promise marriage but dump them when they get pregnant. Yet others end up in homes where they 'make' babies that are sold. Saturday Sun uncovered the core domain of this illicit business of sale of babies. It thrives in Ilaje, a Lagos slum, at the back, rusty and forsaken streets of Iponri area of Lagos, close to Costain. In these dark alley, some group of men and women perfect child trafficking and sale of newborn babies. It is a well structured business that operates on tiers and layers of conmen - from canvassers to the middleman, the touts, the landladies known popularly as 'Alhaja' and the major keepers of the 'breeder' little girls.
Investigation revealed that for fear of running out of 'goods,' the syndicate has devised means of encouraging 'slave' girls to get pregnant as often as possible and submit their babies for sale. In exchange, the innocent girls are given accommodation and some token for upkeep.
One woman from Imo State lives with three of such children, checks revealed. Although she did not get these children from the Iponri camp, they are from the same village as most of those in the slave house. The kids were all taken from Akaeze, a town in Ebonyi State. The woman got them some years ago from their families at the 'price' of N5,000 each.
The woman, who had taken care of the girls for about two years, told Saturday Sun that her friend took her to Akaeze, where she negotiated and took away the kids from their families. Now, she uses them as maids.
She woman said; 'Because she is my friend, I begged her to take me there, as I wanted to find out how true that claim was. Normally, if you pay her, she would travel to Akaeze and return with about five of them or as many as are required. When we got to the village, she took me to the compound of one chief who assists her in picking those children. I made an effort to find out why they give out children as young as four years. They told me that the mothers or parents battle to feed themselves and the only way the children would assist is by getting pregnant with no husband. She told me that the battalions of kids in her compound were all product of unwanted pregnancy.
Her excuse was that the young girls, in a bid to make ends meet, prefer to sleep around to farming.
'I took them three years ago from three different mothers at the tender ages of four, three and six. They are the ones that keep me company, as my children are all grown and in their own homes. The shocking aspect of it was when I assured their grandmother that I would bring them home once in a while and she told me not to bother that God would protect them till they are old enough to find their way home.' Bad experiences Some of the young girls and boys shared their experiences and how they found themselves in Lagos. Steve was brought to Lagos with the full knowledge that he was coming to serve and make money for his family. His master promised to send his earnings back home to his family. Before he was rescued by a charity organisation, his job was hawking in the streets and highways, while he remits the returns to his boss, who is resident in Akaeze periodically. 'He rented a house for us at Ilaje, where we keep our wares at the end of the day. He visits from the village from time to time, to take proceeds from us and to bring more children into the fold,' he revealed.
When Steve was picked up, the police traced his boss to Ebonyi, where he was arrested and prosecuted. The young boy was reconciled with his family members, who were disappointed that he came back empty handed. Barely two weeks after he was sent back, Steve resurfaced in the streets of Lagos. When the police arrested him again, under a bridge, his excuse for returning was that life was better in Lagos than in his village.
For 10-year-old Chukwuma from Ezza, his case is mere predicament. He is an orphan. Soon after his parents died, his uncles liquidated the father's little assets and shared them among themselves.
Chukwuma and two of his siblings were distributed among the uncles, who 'sold' them out to serve as maids. Chukwuma found himself in Lagos, in a home where he is expected to tend two children, clean the house, fetch water, wash clothes and dishes. He slept on bare hard floor and fed from the remains of the food, which barely sustained him. He was often a victim of domestic assault from the madam, in addition to the neglect of not being sent to school, like the kids he looked after.
When things became so unbearable, Chukwuma fled and ran into the nearest church that bundled him to the nearest police station. The police swiftly arrested his master and wife.
The boy shocked the police when he told them that the scars all over his body were actually inflicted by his master. According to him, anytime his master whips, he would threaten him with recovery of the money he paid to acquire him. The slave master actually admitted that he paid Chukwuma's family N20, 000 to take him.
Fortunes, however, cane the way of Chukwuma, after police intervention, as the church that rescued him adopted him.
Chinwe, a little girl, is another victim who set out by the indoctrination she got to make it in Lagos. She is a street trader. That is the means of hitting her big dream in Lagos.
The woman she lives with, unlike many others, enrolled her in a school. But she combined the school activities, in the day, with hawking of meat at a mechanic village nearby. It was in this business place of hers that Saturday Sun spotted her.
When she volunteered to take us to her home, a man who was about to patronise her told Saturday Sun that Chinwe, who claims to be 15 years but looks like a 10- year old girl, is usually in any available bus with any tout that is ready to accommodate her.
At a point, Chinwe blamed her situation on her madam, who allowed his husband to abuse her sexually, adding that and when she complained the woman would beat her up.
'I decided to run away and I think I am better off. I intend to start school from the money I saved from my business,' se said.
Housemaid for sale Little Chidera, who looks barely six years old, told Saturday Sun that she came to Lagos to serve as a nanny. Chidera lives in the Ilaje notorious child slave camp of Lagos. When Saturday Sun spotted her, a year-old-baby was strapped to her back. Her sense of danger or security is not so developed, as to suspected our reporter or her intentions.
This young girl told Saturday Sun that she came to Lagos to be a baby sitter. Her master told our reporter he arranges for maids for anybody who is ready to pay. He revealed that it would be cheaper when he has a long time to arrange t than when the notice is short.
The man, who simply gave his name as Oko said: 'Majority of the people living here are from Ebonyi State. This area is well known here as Anyakaogu, Izzi,' which implies an extension of a village with such name in Ebonyi.
'It is a starting point, where you can get an accommodation for as low as N1, 000 per month. We are like a family here. To get a good housemaid, you will pay as much as N20, 000,' he added.
Saturday Sun reporter had offered to pay him N50,000, for quick delivery. Seeing a business opportunity, the man asked if the reporter liked Chidera, as he would not mind giving her up. For the little girl, Oko collected a dude cheque of N20, 000. He was told that the balance would be paid the next day and the girl would be taken away.
Excited, Oko said if he had got all the money, he would not mind handing over the girl instantly. On whether he would not follow the reporter to know where Chidera was to be taken. He said that the girl was an orphan and her guardians gave her out for N2,000.
'No one wants to know how she is faring. Therefore, it is a plus for her to get a good and caring family to live with. If it is her destiny to survive and make it in life, I know she will surely come back to look for me and find her way home,' Oko declared.
Babies also for sale A few yards from Oko's shop, Saturday Sun reporter spotted another young man who sells foodstuff and explained to him her intentions. He immediately abandoned all his customers and dashed into the adjoining house. On his way back, some touts, in the close by the Ilaje garage, called him for a chat. He came back to explain that the boys were aware of our visit, hence the price of the housemaid might increase because the touts would get a fraction of the fee.
The atmosphere of the discussion changed, as a hefty looking man appeared. He introduced himself as Remi and advised that our reporter saw him privately. To draw his sympathy and influence the bargain, Saturday Sun reporter feigned sadness and she bust into tears, imploring Remi to do his best 'as my home was at the point of collapse since I cannot bear a child for my husband.'
Probably convinced, Remi advised: 'You and I know that it is illegal to adopt a child without the consent of the government. I know what you are going through madam because my sister also suffered the same fate. To convince you that I can help you, Uche will take you to a place where we have available babies but they are all girls. This is my office, when you return we can negotiate the fee.'
On getting close to the house, where babies were 'displayed' for sale, Uche requested, for security reasons, that the reporter dropped her bags at the gate. He said that the Alhaja who owns the house would ensure that nothing happened to the bags. He said that they take such measures because they had had cases with the police but pulled through because they were able to prove their innocence.
Inside the small room were two girls. One clutched a day-old baby and the other a week-old, both girls. Uche explained that the girls would leave the camp as soon as they get buyers for their babies. When payment is made, he said, the girls would get part of the money, while the rest would be shared between the person who brought the buyer and Alhaja, who accommodates the girls.
One of the girls, who introduced herself as Linda, told Saturday Sun that her master threw her out where she lived when they discovered she was pregnant.
'I came to Lagos three years ago, when I was 13 years, to serve as a housemaid in the home of a town's man. I used to sell water for my madam and on my way back home one night some agbero raped me. I told my madam, but she told me that it was a way of life. My master started sleeping with me and offered me gifts. When I discovered that I was pregnant, I was driven away. With the little money I had, I started my sachet water business while I slept in my friends' homes. It was then that I met one man who referred me to Alhaja,' she said.
When asked if she would be interested in the child, in future, Linda said that her initial plan was to dump the baby in front of a church but when she was told that she could make money to start life all over again by selling the 'baby, she changed her plan.
'My child will fare better with whoever that will take her. I don't want her to live my kind of life,' she said.
Asking price is N250,000 The bargaining began at an initial offer of N400, 000. Our reporter accepted to pay N200, 000. Uche, the middleman, said the baby won't go for a dime less than N250, 000. He said that the business ends as soon as the agreed price is paid. He said something to the effect that the safety of the baby did not matter to them.
'Our business is to perfect the sale. We can't kill the baby and don't believe you the buyer will do that.
'We are used to all these things. Since we started this business, if you check very well dropping of children at the garbage or toilet has reduced. This is because we have given them hope that the baby can fetch them money to start life all over gain.'
Back at the Ilaje motor park, Remi accosted our reporter to know if she was satisfied with the babies on sale. The reporter, as decoy, told him that she would have preferred a baby boy. He promised to source for a baby boy.
'You will not regret doing business with us. If you have such problem again, please don't fail to contact me,' Remi pleaded.
Checking the abuse Despite the influx of these underage ones from Ebonyi, some human rights activists have made efforts to ensure that the appropriate authorities put a check on the illicit business. One of such persons is Evangelist Jacinta Nworie, leader, Christ Assurance Bible Ministry. She corroborated the report on the alarming rate at which indigenes of Ebonyi, especially from Akaeze, Ezza, Izzi and Abakaliki axis 'sale' their children into modern slavery. This exodus, she explained, is fuelled by poverty.
Citing some of her experiences, Nworie explained that her passion for her people, in this predicament, arose from her experience. She was a child at 10 when she was given out in marriage and had a child at about 13, only to be abandoned to fend for herself and the child. On her recovery from the abuse, she set up a body to liberate others found in such situation. She picks kids up on the highway, during school hours, and takes them to the police and sometimes to NAPTIP.
'There was a case where I picked up some children and took them home to the governor for rehabilitation. They promised to assist and I left the children with them; all they did was to send them back to their poverty-ridden parents. A few days later, I saw one of them in Lagos, in the traffic hawking. I was able to trace his abode to the slum at Ilaje. I discovered that the area is densely populated with people from the area.
'A man, who attended to me, told me that it was no news that Ebonyi people live here and have perfected making money for the adults. He said the people who bring them don't have problem convincing their poor parents in the village to lease out their children. The boys would be sent to hawk, while the girls are given out to people as housemaid. I know that the government may not be aware of what is happening. The truth is that Ebonyi people are suffering in abject poverty.
Visit the Abalaliki rice mill and see underage children labouring to survive. They would pick the sawdust and sieve to get pieces of rice to survive. It is horrible, over there, hence the exodus to Lagos. I have done my best to assist and I must sincerely appreciate the Federal Government who gave me plots of land to build a foundation for these children. I am calling on well meaning Nigerians to assist develop this land, so that we could mop them up and better their lives. They do not have any means of education. The girls end up getting pregnant and the boys turn dreaded members of the society at the end of the day. 'I want to call on the governor of the state to see it as a matter of urgency to rescue these people who make up majority of the underage hawkers in the streets of Lagos.'
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE (The SUN)