Shortly before 2018 World Cup in Russia, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), raised the alarm that human traffickers have taken advantage of weak legislation in orphanage home operation in Abuja, to expand their businesses and feather their nest.
Its Director General, Julie Okah-Donli, the upsurge of unregistered orphanage homes could also be responsible for high cases of missing children in schools, as well as sudden disappearance of babies in hospitals, churches, markets and other public places. She painted a gory picture of how these unregistered orphanage homes make fortunes out of innocent Nigerians: “They would assemble innocent children in the name of care giving. Within a short while, the children are sold off to waiting clients.”
She drew the attention of the Social Development Secretariat of FCT administration to the nefarious activities of unregistered orphanages and baby care homes that specialise in sale of children. She admitted that kind and generous Nigerians visit orphanage homes on daily basis, with large quantity of food and non-food items, as well as cash to either celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversary or any other breakthrough:
“But these items disappear shortly after the departure of the visitors. They are, perhaps, sold off by the operators of these orphanage homes for whatever reason thus denying the children the opportunity of good food and care. Preliminary investigation confirmed that the human traffickers work closely with some hospital officials and other undercover agents to get these babies from various wards.
“It is sad to imagine that children that are brought to life with much joy and hope, are deceitfully trafficked under the pretence of greener pastures, only to be displayed as wares in some unregistered structures called orphanage homes and baby care centers.”
She suggested to interested parents to formally apply for adoption of babies instead of passing through human traffickers whose businesses are illegal and fraudulent. Howbeit, there is a rising case of people, mostly women, who are neither registered nor unregistered orphanage home or baby care home operators using the names of non-existing orphanage homes to enrich themselves and swindle innocent Nigerians.
In their style of operation, they would print a card and branded envelopes with a name of orphanage homes that only exist in their pockets, move from one location to another in Abuja, sharing it, asking people to help children in their un-existing orphanage homes.
Some passionate Nigerians, barely read the contents of the cards or envelopes neither do they interrogate the authenticity of the claims before giving out their resources. For the giver, he or she has given for the upkeep of the orphans but un-knowingly they have enriched the women and their families.
There was a mild drama in Dutse Alhaji Market in Abuja, few weeks ago, when two of such women met their Waterloo. They could not defend their claim of housing 22 children in their acclaimed orphanage home located somewhere in Abuja, that needed food, clothes and other necessary things for upkeep.
The women, in their daily usual business style, on that fateful day, were sharing appeal envelopes and cards in the market when they were confronted by someone that claimed to had genuinely wanted to assist in provision of some food and non food items.
Unlike other people that would freely give food, non-food items or money without asking questions, the man insisted on having more knowledge of their activities and if possible, visit the orphanage home before he could make the donation.
He was surprised that the women resisted vehemently in spite of several efforts. They asked him to make his donations and not bother to visit the orphanage. The more he tried to convince them, the more the women tried to discourage the man, but he insisted. Apparently uncomfortable with the unending interrogations, the women “shamefully” walked away amid boos and insults from scene already created in the market.
A trader in the market who refused to disclose his identity said he used to show generosity to such people but he has stopped because of previous unpalatable experiences: “Some of these people are impersonators looking for ways to enrich themselves. I know a woman that does that business. It was recently that I discovered. She would move from one location in Abuja to another and even beyond where no one could recognise her for the business.
“She would present a countenance to attract peoples’ sympathy. She would use all means to convince people that she ran an orphanage home. She could explore a particular location for two or three days before changing locations. She will meet her Waterloo someday. The implication is that people won’t know the genuine persons that need help.”
An orphanage operator, MaryJane (surname withheld), confirmed that there are fake and unregistered orphanage homes in Abuja, that discredit efforts and good works of others. They are known for illegal business.
She alleged that some doctors and nurses in some unnamed hospitals connive with human traffickers to smuggle babies out of hospitals for sale. She suggested that NAPTIP increase its searchlight to fish out such people and punish them accordingly:
“As genuine and reputable operators of orphanage, we have rules that must be followed by any interested person to adopt a child. Record of every child in our custody is domiciled with the Police and FCT Social Development Secretariat.”
She agreed that there are always bad eggs in any business but that does not rule out the fact that there are great people doing amazing work in the industry. She was unhappy that government does not offer help, financially or otherwise, to the operators of orphanage: “And they expect babies in these orphanage homes to look well fed and live in a clean environment.
“Our monthly running cost is in millions of naira. We do that to maintain minimum standard. We operate in a environment full of challenges but we have committed ourselves to the service of humanity despite the frustrating operational environment we have found ourselves.”