Inside Abuja’s baby-renting racket

The recent disclosure by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to the effect that it had dismantled a syndicate of women who specialised in sourcing and renting out babies who are then used for street begging in Nyanya, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), illuminates the dark underbelly of urban life in the country.

The latest disclosure follows reports by the same agency back in March that it had rescued three children under the age of one who were apparently being readied for street begging. According to media reports, parents who agree to rent out their underage children typically receive as low as N3,000 per day.

We salute the efforts of the Director of the Agency, Ms Fatima Waziri-Azi, and commend her for her doggedness and resolve to bring this infamy to an end. Hers being one of the standout cases of excellence in an otherwise mediocre bureaucratic landscape, we fully identify with her call to the parents involved to cease and desist.

That said, Ms. Waziri-Azi cannot stop there, for what is the point in apprehending those involved in these nefarious operations without bringing them to book? An example has to be made of those who have been arrested to serve as a deterrent and the proper course of action is to prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

That said, there is something about the entire phenomenon that sticks in our craw. We concede that things are hard in the country and that many people are struggling to make ends meet.

In this regard, it is probably not a coincidence that the busted syndicate had been operating in Nyanya, once described by a national newspaper as “a sprawling cobweb of rusty and decrepit low quarters.” We also concede that poverty is disempowering and can force people to recourse to undesirable and morally dubious actions.

Having conceded all of that, we still find it difficult to come to terms with a situation in which parents consciously hand out their underage children and wards to strangers in order to make money.

For the sociologist in us, the act provokes a series of interrelated questions: what is broken in the parent-child relationship to get to that point where a parent willingly trades their child for cash? What has become of social norms in such an environment? What about community? What spiritual (we do not use the word lightly) light has been turned off in such parents and can it be switched back on?

We pose these questions not just because we find the phenomenon deeply unsettling; we pose them because the phenomenon is just one among many examples of social disarticulation framed by a profound crisis of meaning that continues to overshadow quotidian existence in Nigeria.

This, after all, is just one example of parents across the country literally sacrificing their children for their own economic benefit. In some well-reported cases, children have been abused (and not in a few cases, killed) by parents who believed that their children possessed and wielded demonic powers over them.

Thus, beyond the usual condemnation, this case should force Nigerians to think more deeply about the condition of existence in contemporary Nigeria, focusing on the degradation of social norms and mores that obviously has an economic dimension, but is in no way exhausted by it.

What has happened to Nigerians as a people and how is the urgent task of moral recomposition to begin?

By Tribune Editorial Board..

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