Children may be a bundle of trouble but they are also a delight to have. Having children is not because the good Lord said “go ye and multiply.” If we did not multiply the world would be a dead place since we would in the long run be all dead. We have children because they help us to lengthen the family tree and the family heritage. We have children with the hope that all things being equal they will be a source of great comfort to us in our old age when our bones are weak and old age becomes a burden and we need our loved ones to assist us to grow old gracefully. That is why people go to the ends of the earth to have children. Women go to spiritual churches, native doctors, fertility centres in search of help so that they can have tiny fellows who will grow up to call them mommy. In Nigeria, many marriages have collapsed on account of the woman’s infertility. Those men who do not throw out their barren wives resort to the acquisition of a second wife thus becoming emergency polygamists. The joy of parents is to see their children grow from little mischievous beings who are not afraid to terrorise everybody in the house to well-groomed individuals who grow into being seen as their parents’ friends. That is the joy that children, particularly good children, bring to their parents. When the children grow up, they begin to leave their parents’ homes one by one, creating a situation that is known as “empty nest syndrome.” The empty nest syndrome leaves the parents with a mixture of sadness and happiness. Sadness because the home is empty and the parents do not have the pleasure of playing with their children anymore. Happiness because the children have grown into adults who are trying to earn a living and raise their own families. In the final analysis children are an interminable source of pleasure to their parents.
However, today, there is an oddity on parade: some parents are selling their children. Recently, a 30-year-old man, Edet Essien Inyang, from Akwa Ibom State, who lives in Odukpani, Cross River State, was arrested for trying to sell his two children. According to the Sunday Vanguard of May 12, 2019, Mr. Inyang took his two children, a boy and a girl, to Murray Street in Calabar for sale. He offered to auction the boy for N200,000 and the girl for N150,000. He thought that with N350,000 in his pocket he would be able to take care of himself until the money dries up. However, his neighbours, in the spirit of good neighbourliness and the philosophy of Good Samaritanism, tipped off the police. It is this performance of an amebo’s duty that saved the day. The police arrested Mr. Inyang before the transaction could be consummated. In Imo State, a 23-year-old woman, Chinonye Oparaocha, had conspired with a nurse to sell her baby boy for N850,000 six months after delivery. She was arrested by the police along with five other persons two months after she had sold the baby. She and her conspiratorial clients will have their day in court. Almost every week, there are several cases of parents auctioning their children like goats for one reason or the other. Largely, this new form of slave trade is traceable to the grinding poverty that many people experience today. At least that is what many of those arrested have said. But poverty has always been with us. In the past, women who couldn’t afford to take care of their babies used to wrap them in polythene bags and drop them where they could be found and taken to orphanages. They didn’t think about selling them. Now the spirit of mercantilism has taken over.
Those who have been caught in the act finger poverty as the motivating factor for the sale. Their logic is bifurcated: With the sale they will have some money to take care of themselves while someone else, obviously richer, will take better care of the baby than they would have done. By this logic neither the parent nor the baby will suffer even though they may not see each other ever again. This is the logic of unvarnished mercantilism, not altruism, much the same as that of the slave dealers of old. This baby whose real name may be lost in the process of being sold and resold will have to call a stranger mom or dad, being that, even when he or she grows up, there will be no inkling of who his or her biological parents are.
Some of the baby sellers have said that they have more children than they can cater for. So, they have no qualms about selling one or two in order to take care of the others. Some of them sell or seek to sell their babies because either the child is a product of rape of the mother by armed robbers, kidnappers or cultists or a product of an incestuous relationship, or the child is said to be a witch who will bring ill luck to the family. In some cases, the women may not know that a pregnancy exists until it is too late to abort. Also, her religious conviction or the fear of something going wrong in the attempt to procure an abortion may compel the woman to give birth. After giving birth, she may realise that the baby being around will be a perpetually sad reminder of what went wrong in her life. To erase that part of her ignoble history from her life she thinks auctioning the baby is the best option since she will also have some cash in her pocket by that process.
This boom in the baby market has come with other scenarios. Some people who seem to belong to a syndicate actually try to locate some young girls who have financial problems and talk them into being pregnant for a fee. They take care of the woman’s needs during pregnancy, take them to some illicit maternity homes and when the baby is born the mother is paid off and the baby taken away for sale. The other scenario in this business is that nurses who belong to a syndicate in some situations actually steal babies from their mothers and sell to their clients. From what we have seen so far, the price of buying and selling varies on account of the sex of the baby. Baby boys cost more while baby girls cost less. This accords with the desire of many Nigerian men and women for male children. The price is also determined by the desperation or otherwise of the selling party and the eagerness or otherwise of the potential buyer. This is not a product whose price is fixed as product prices are fixed in supermarkets. How much a baby goes for depends on the circumstance. The haggling apparently does not go on for long because the seller wants to close the deal quickly and collect the money before neighbours know what has happened. The buyer is also interested in a deal quickly concluded so that the police does not close in on him. So, apparently, the haggling does not go on for a long time. This means that the seller may not get an appropriate price for his or her product. But what is the appropriate price for a human being that has no skills or ability to do anything for anybody? Footballers are sold by clubs for humongous sums of money because of the skills that they bring to their football teams. These kids are sold because there are people who want babies that they can call their own or babies that they can resell to other people who may also resell to other people within or outside the country.
Many Nigerians often go to Badagry in Lagos State to see the relics of the slave trade because Badagry was an important slave trade post. Some of the chains that were used to tie up the slaves are still there as sad reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. But that was the white man dealing with the black man. Today, this new form of slave trade is perpetrated by blacks against blacks, by parents against their children for the love of money. On the other hand, you have women who spend millions of naira in search of fertility. They go to fertility clinics and when everything else fails they opt for artificial insemination so that they can have babies of their own. But those who have these babies without too much sweat choose to throw them into the market where they are bought and sold like chicken. That is an indication of the low level of respect that some Nigerians have for human life. On the other hand, the world has now set aside two days in a year to celebrate and honour fathers and mothers. That is an indication that the world values the role that parents play in the lives of their children, a role that impacts on the children positively to the benefit of society. On any of those days when mothers and fathers are honoured, how do those who are selling their children feel? Well, most of them may not know that such days exist or that the world takes parenting seriously.
Poverty is not a viable excuse for selling children. Poverty has been around since the world began. It does not have an expiry date. No government in the world has been able to eradicate poverty. So poverty will remain with us even with the best of policies by government. Those who bring children to the world must understand that nobody compels them to have children. If they choose to have them because they believe that they are valued property they must strive to take care of them. There is no doubt that there is a high poverty and high unemployment rate in the country but it shouldn’t come down to selling children so as to feed the parents. The children did not ask to be brought to the world by their parents. It is the parents who did so on their own volition. They must bear that responsibility in any way they can without making their children victims of their unplanned procreation.