By Samuel Ouma
Cases of women losing their children in some Kenyan hospitals, streets, and residential places recently have hit a high record, raising queries on who might have been involved. Some pictures of women living in despair and pain after losing their young ones had been shared on social media platforms and mainstream media, confirming the famous African adage saying the parent knows a child’s pain.
For instance, in February 2018, a couple lost a three-week-old twin baby at Kenyatta National Hospital to a woman posing as a patient at the facility. Reports showed that the infant’s father, identified as Job Ouko, approached the woman to help him look after the boy as he wheeled his ailing wife to the hospital’s first floor. Within a twinkle of an eye, one of the women carrying Ouko’s other child rushed to him and reported that the other woman had taken off.
The police launched the investigations, and the suspect was later arrested in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum while in possession of the child. Eyewitnesses had revealed that the woman said to have stolen the baby had monitored her victims for about 10 hours. Theft of babies has left untold wounds in many mothers as they keep their slim hope of reuniting with their lost children alive in the future.
Where the stolen babies are being taken for long has been a mystery until the recent expose by the BBC Africa Eye. The BBC report revealed the babies are being sold for a hundred dollars with the prime targets being those living in the streets, children’s care centres, and hospitals. Many cases are from Nairobi with Kayole slum, which houses thousands of people rumored to be a hotbed of the illegal business.
“Most of the clinics in Kayole do this business. They sell children. If you can’t have a baby and visit such clinics, they will give you a child. It is a business that is booming, and they are making a lot of money,” said Judith Kanaitha, a news reporter with a local radio station.
The chain of those engaging in child trafficking business that rob women their children in the East African nation is long, including employees in public hospitals and government officials. Some staffers at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi were mentioned in the BBC expose. Fred Leparan, a clinical social worker at the facility, was filmed negotiating with an undercover journalist in a well-organized plot to sell the abandoned child in the hospital for $400.
In a quick response, police arrested Fred alongside the hospital CEO and administrator Emma Mutio and Regina Musembi, respectively, and Selina Awuor, another social worker. Also nabbed was Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) Medical Services Deputy Director Musa Mohammed. The CEO and the administrator were released after a Nairobi court found no case to answer. Medical Services Deputy Director Musa Mohammed was also on November 25 released on Sh200,000 cash bail.
Some of the homeless mothers in the streets of Nairobi have also fallen victims to child smugglers. As Esther narrated, their children are being snatched without their knowledge by the child smugglers looking for easy-earned money. Esther’s three-year-old son disappeared in 2018, as reported by BBC, and is yet to be found.
“I have never been at peace since I lost my child. I have searched for him all the way to Mombasa… I loved him so much, and I would forgive them if they would give me back my child,” said Esther.
It is alleged the stolen babies are sold to the highest bidders who cannot have children, and some are used for sacrifice by unknown individuals. Mary Anna Munyendo, the CEO and founder of Missing Child Kenya, said African culture plays some roles in the thriving black market for babies in the country.
“Child trafficking is a big issue in Kenya. There are many under-reporting, cultural issues, and long-term established cartels that are even protecting each other. One of the biggest reasons is that we have a culture that states to keep a marriage, you must have a child, and on top of that, you must have a boy. You go back to the village, and people call you barren or a dry piece of wood. So what do you do to save your marriage? You steal a child!” reiterated Mary.
A multi-agency team has been formed to unearth all the networks behind the syndicate.
“Following this expose, a team of officers and experts from the relevant government agencies has been constituted to investigate and take the necessary action exhaustively. As the Government of Kenya, we do not condone child trafficking, and we will do everything possible to get to the bottom of this issue,” said Labour and Social Protection Minister Simon Chelugui.
Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino told journalists that security had been beefed at Children’s homes and hospitals.
“And the inspector general has given clear instructions to county commanders in other parts of the country to ensure that they work together with the multi-agencies, other government organs, and monitor children’s homes and government hospitals, and the operation of these children’s homes, so that we can be able to put them to accountability and to ensure that we protect children from trafficking,” Owino said.
Kenyans have been urged to report any case involving child trafficking to the nearest police post or relevant government agencies or call Child Helpline number 116.
A person found guilty of child trafficking in Kenya is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than 30 years or a fine of not less than Sh20 million.