Babies for sale

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Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 29 November 2016| 28 Safar 1438

Dressed in a white jumpsuit, mittens and socks, the baby girl lay quietly in the Malaysian heat.

“I picked her up and she smiled,” said Hartini Zainudin, recalling the hot Saturday morning that changed her life.  Hartini is well known in Malaysia as a child rights activist who rescues unwanted babies.

She thought this was another of those cases. But then the woman who had been caring for the baby at a house in the port town of Klang, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, got down to business. For $3,000, she said, Hartini could take the baby home immediately and raise her as her own.

“They said, ‘You can buy her … or she’ll go to Thailand’,” Hartini recalled.

She stepped outside and phoned a fellow activist, who told her that trafficking gangs sometimes maim young children before forcing them to beg in Thailand.

Hartini’s decision was instant. She walked back into the house and agreed to buy the little girl, another deal done in Malaysia’s lucrative underground baby trade.

An exclusive Al Jazeera investigation for 101 East has revealed that baby selling rackets are thriving in Malaysia.
A complex web of traffickers and doctors is turning the youngest, most vulnerable human lives into commodities, putting them up for sale to the highest bidder.

In this Southeast Asian nation, where legal adoption can take years, people are handing over thousands of dollars to baby sellers and turning to corrupt officials to help register the children they buy as their own.

A baby’s price can range from about $400 to $7,500, with their value determined by race, skin colour, gender and weight.

“The lighter skin, if a male, higher price. The darker skin, a girl, lower price. And then if you’re a mix, higher price. This is how it works,” explained Hartini.

The babies offered for sale come from a variety of women. Some are poor migrant workers who, by law, are not allowed to have children in the country. Others come from Malaysian women, including some who are forced to give up their babies to avoid the stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock.

The buyers are often childless couples desperate to start a family and frustrated with the country’s convoluted adoption procedures. But activists say some babies are bought for more sinister purposes, sometimes by syndicates who groom children for paedophiles.

During a four-month undercover investigation, Al Jazeera discovered just how easy it is to find a baby to buy in Malaysia and to obtain the false documents required to change a baby’s identity.

Websites and social media pages offer numerous babies who are “in need of a loving home”. The posts detail the baby’s due date, expected medical costs and the so-called “consolation fee” to be paid to the birth mother.

“You can choose your baby online,” Hartini explained. “In a lot of the cataloging for baby selling, you’ll have Chinese, Malay … it’s like a supermarket.”

‘The trafickers’
me of the people behind the social media posts advertising infants are in fact baby sellers.

After first making contact online, Al Jazeera’s team met a woman who called herself ‘Bonda’, which means ‘mother’ in Malay.

She claimed to be housing 78 pregnant Indonesian women at various locations across Malaysia.

She sent us a photo catalogue of pregnant women for potential buyers to choose from. It lists the women’s names, jobs and stages of pregnancy.

Bonda guaranteed that the birth mothers would not try to find their babies once they were sold.

“I have dealt with over 1,000 Indonesians with no problems,” she said. “They never ask where their children go after giving them up.”

It would cost up to $2,500 to buy a baby and the falsified birth documents, Bonda explained. But she quickly offered to reduce the price to $1,500 to close the deal.

‘The Babies’
it’s impossible to know where all of the babies offered for sale in Malaysia come from, but not all are willingly given up by their mothers.

When Siti discovered that she was pregnant, she was a young, unmarried university student. In this Muslim-majority country, having a child out of wedlock is not just frowned upon; it’s a Shariah offence for a Muslim woman to have sex with a man who is not her husband. The punishment is up to three years in prison, whipping and a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit (about $1,155).

Siti’s parents forced her to stay at a home for unwed mothers on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur until she gave birth.
Speaking on the condition that Al Jazeera not disclose her real name, Siti said that she desperately wanted to keep her baby boy but staff at the home forced her to sign adoption papers four days after he was born.

“I held my child close to me and wondered, ‘How am I going to live without him?'”

As she signed the papers, a couple watched. They handed over an envelope stuffed with cash to the people who ran the home for unwed mothers.

The home for unwed mothers was closed down by the government’s Social Welfare Department in 2012, shortly after Siti says her baby was taken. The centre was found to be unlicensed but it wasn’t charged with baby selling.

“There were complaints about this place so we closed it down and we removed the girls from there and she [Siti] was one of them,” explained Raymund Jagan, a former Social Welfare Department officer.

“We took a number of girls and sent them back to their homes and this girl [Siti] told me she was very upset that her child was taken away from her and given to somebody else.”

During our investigation into Malaysia’s baby trade, it was easy to find a woman who wanted to sell her unborn child.
One Filipino who was six months pregnant offered her baby boy for $2,000, plus the cost of her monthly check-ups and the baby’s delivery fee.

“The baby is healthy and actually the baby is starting to move now,” the expectant mother told our undercover reporters who were posing as a couple who were unable to have children.

The woman said she had been working in Kuala Lumpur, but her work visa had expired. Migrant workers are not allowed to bear children in Malaysia, and her child would be stateless if born in the country.

Our undercover reporters accompanied the woman as she went for an ultrasound scan at a private clinic.

‘The Doctors’
e woman told our undercover reporters about a private clinic where birth documents can be falsified so that the potential buyers would be registered as the child’s biological parents.

We later met Dr Pannir who told us that he offers such services. His fee? $5,000 to deliver the baby and provide a falsified birth certificate.

Pannir also said that he could help connect us with pregnant Malaysians and foreigners willing to sell their babies. Chinese babies are the most expensive, costing about $7,500, he explained.

“Got money, can do anything,” he said.

Corrupt officials in the government’s National Registration Department help falsify birth certificates, Pannir explained.

Asked whether the officials might blow the whistle, the doctor boasted that they had already made many false birth certificates for him.

“Nothing to worry about,” he said.

Welfare homes and doctors aren’t the only ones cashing in on the demand for babies.

Malaysia’s underground sex trade has also found that there is money to be made out of selling infants, according to anti-trafficking NGO, Tenaganita.

Aegile Fernandez, the group’s programme director, explained that previously, sex workers who got pregnant would have abortions, but now some are deliberately getting pregnant. In some cases, they may be forced to by their traffickers.

“She delivers the baby and the baby would be sold. So now you have a trafficker who makes triple the amount of money,” Fernandez said.

With decades of experience in rescuing trafficked women and children, Fernandez has seen the most depraved cases of exploitation in Malaysia’s baby selling trade.

“Women were being brought in for the purpose of a job but they were then kept locked up, confined, then subsequently raped and then the babies were being sold,” she said.

While some children end up in good homes, Fernandez said others are bought simply to be abused.
“These babies are bought by syndicates. These children, when they come to the age of eight, are then used for sex work for paedophiles,” she explained.

Fernandez said the authorities make little attempt to stop the trade in babies.

“For me, the anger is with our own Malaysians, our own state, our own authorities, because of that ‘I don’t care’ attitude,” she said.

The government’s Social Welfare Department did not respond to requests for comment and the National Registration Department, which issues birth certificates, refused to be interviewed.

‘Uncertain future’
For Hartini Zainudin, the child rights activist, the decision to buy a baby from traffickers eight years ago proved life-changing – for her and the baby.

After she returned to Kuala Lumpur on that fateful day, Hartini made a report to the police and the government’s Social Welfare Department, informing them of what had taken place.

Hartini then decided to adopt the little girl, calling her Zara.

But the fight to secure Zara’s future is not over. She did not have a birth certificate when Hartini bought her. The traffickers offered Hartini the chance to buy a falsified birth certificate but she refused.

She was eventually able to get her a birth certificate, but Zara remains stateless as Hartini fights a long-running legal battle to have her declared a Malaysian citizen. In the meantime, Zara cannot access public education or healthcare or get a passport. If it isn’t resolved by the time she grows up, she will also be unable to marry.

Zara knows that she is adopted but has no idea that her adoptive mother bought her from a baby trafficker. Hartini knows the day will come when she’ll have to explain to Zara how she became her daughter.

“I don’t know what I’m going to say to her,” she said. “It’s a terrible story but I’m hoping it has a happy ending.”

Source – Al Jazeera