Social Services warned of 'miracle baby' trafficking risk
Social services have been warned to watch out for couples returning from Africa with "miracle babies" as they could be a cover for trafficking.
Child protection organisations Cafcass, ADCS and Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB) have issued guidance to all social workers in the UK.
They want to help them recognise signs of staged fake births.
The Family Court has seen five cases of couples attempting to bring babies into the UK whom they are not related to.
One couple claimed fertility treatment combined with their strong Christian faith had resulted in them conceiving in Nigeria - but tests showed the child, who was later taken into care, was not theirs.
A dozen more cases were detected by the British consulate in Lagos - though officials say that the real numbers could be much higher.
'Bought and sold'
Andy Elvin, chief executive of CFAB, described the cases as "disturbing" and urged social workers to involve the police, who can investigate whether couples have been involved in criminal activity or are the victims of a "cruel deception".
"The most disturbing element is that babies are for sale," he said.
"In the 21st century, humans are being bought and sold for somewhere in the region of £12,000. It's something we thought went out with slavery.
"It's shocking that people are willing to sell babies, but it's just as shocking that people will buy them."
Mr Elvin said that many of the birth mothers will have been coerced, and may even have been sold into prostitution.
"There are many victims, but the real victims are of course the children," he said.
"They won't know anything about their origins. It's like the dark days of adoption when people thought it best not to tell the child anything.
"The effect on a child who discovers their life to be a lie can be profound - and can lead to mental health problems later on."
CFAB worked with Cafcass - the Children and Family Court Advisory Service - and ADCS (Association of Directors of Children's Services) to produce a multi-agency information leaflet to assist social workers to recognise and understand the signs of faked birth - such as a lack of antenatal appointments - and to encourage referrals to the relevant authorities.
Mr Elvin said that the aim was to "suspend disbelief" of such practices occurring and to work to prevent what he described as a "100% increase" in cases since 2005.
In October last year, the High Court ruled that a couple could keep a baby they brought back from Nigeria - even though tests showed they were not the biological parents.
The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she'd gone to the country for fertility treatment and was tricked into believing she had given birth.
The presiding judge Mr Justice Coleridge said the pair - who he described as "people of the highest calibre and integrity" - were victims of the "most appalling scam".