Children's Day

By Adewale Maja Pearce

Selling children has become an industry in Nigeria as people find ever-more
desperate ways to survive. Much has been made of the more sensational cases,
which is only to be expected, for instance one Lillian who was discovered to be
running a ‘unisex camp’ in Abia State with '43 young girls and 11 robust boys for
premarital procreation for commercial interest’. At the time of the police raid, over
30 of the women were ‘already heavily pregnant’. Then there was the ‘maternity
home’, also in Abia State, which was found to have nine pregnant women
between the ages of 15 and 26 waiting to be delivered. The home was run by
one Ijeoma – known to everyone as Mummy – who lured the girls with the
promise of free treatment for the duration of their confinement, whereupon the
newborns were sold to ‘ritualists, child traffickers and adoptees’. She also
apparently employed two bouncers to ensure that none of the inmates tried to
escape although this seemed unlikely given their reason for being there in the
first place. She later confessed to making N400,000 per boy and N300,000 per
girl and claimed that ‘part’ of the proceeds went to the women she had assisted
in their hour of need but was careful not to give a figure.

These are by no means isolated stories but what seems remarkable about the
sex farms and bogus hospitals is the apparent acquiescence of the local
community.  In the case of Ijeoma, for instance, it wasn’t as if she was particularly
discreet given that the neighbours themselves complained that they had
observed strange comings and goings over the last three years without
attempting to do anything about it. Doctors, especially, seem to get away with
bluff and bluster but then these are mostly rural areas where the locals are easily
browbeaten by the Big Men, a pattern replicated all the way to oga at the top.

Still, not all child sellers are regular criminals. In 2008, a British journalist from the
Daily Telegraph wrote about a married couple in a one-room apartment who
apparently offered their two young sons – three and five - for ‘the price of a
second-hand car’ in order that he might take them to Abroad for a better life. The
mother was quoted as saying that it was ‘hard for us to do this but we are
desperate and this is our last hope'. When they were eventually told that the
prospective buyer was not the Great White Hope of their dreams the husband
voiced his disappointment – ‘We had already started to make plans’ – but added
that he also felt relieved: ‘This must be God’s will.’

The latest case to hit the headlines involved a mother of four who, in the process
of confessing to having sold four other children, startled even the police by
further confessing that the seven-month foetus she was carrying had already
been sold in advance for N200,000; as she put it: ‘I was against it but [my
husband] convinced me to agree to it, saying he had already collected the
money.’ This was half the price of a child they had sold earlier in the year: ‘In
March 2013, my neighbour’s son, Stanley Ezeaka, was following me about in the
compound at Jakande Estate and it was at that time that my husband received a
phone call from his partner that she needed a child for sale. My husband then
suggested that we took Stanley even though he was a bit old.’ Hopefully, Stanley
has been reunited with his family but the chances are slim.

It is possible that some of these children do actually end up with genuine
‘adopters’, like the woman who paid N600,000 for a boy because she was lonely
following the death of her husband after a 28-year childless marriage. Perhaps,
also, she had been turned down by the state government adoption agency which
charges only a nominal administrative fee but takes its time, Nigerian
bureaucracy being what it is. But not even the couple desperate to sell their two
boys could have been unaware of what happens in that Abroad, for instance
Cynthia, who was bought by a Nigerian couple in London when she was 12 years
old to look after their three children and generally skivvy for 16 hours a day for
no pay. As she said when she finally managed to escape four years later: ‘They
used any excuse to hit me. I was treated as a slave.’

At least Cynthia lived to tell the tale. Not so seven-year-old Samu Danjuma from
Nasarawa State who was kidnapped and beheaded by a neighbour who was
promised N250,000  for a fresh human head for ritual purposes. There is also
‘the case of a baby sacrificed by the wife of a governor of one of the states
grappling with Boko Haram insurgency, to secure her position,’ although this
story, which appeared in only one online publication (Nigeria News, 17 February
2013), has been impossible to corroborate, which is hardly surprising in a
country where no one high up ever gets prosecuted for anything. And in a
country where no records are ever kept, it is equally impossible to guess at how
widespread this practice is. The police, who might otherwise be in a position to let
us know, are often themselves implicated but let us not go there. The police are
a recurring decimal in any story about Nigeria but only because they are the
most visible face of the corruption which makes it all possible.

It remains a pity that many states of the federation have refused to ratify the
Child Rights Act passed by the federal government a decade ago, and that even
those which have done so seem reluctant to enforce it because it would mean,
amongst other things, banning children from hawking when they should be in
school, always assuming that the state government in question was even
interested in educating the children in its care.

But enough already! Monday is Children’s Day and since we never tire of
reminding ourselves that our children are the future – The Young Shall Grow - let
us equally celebrate the parents and guardians who struggle against the odds to
do the right thing by that same future.

©Adewale Maja-Pearce


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories, and Dream
Chasers.

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