Judge raises Nigeria baby selling scam concerns

Concerns about "desperate childless parents" being caught up in baby-selling scams in Nigeria have been raised by a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Coleridge said there was evidence that women were going to Nigeria seeking fertility treatment, then being sold unwanted babies.

They had been tricked into thinking they had become pregnant and given birth, he said.

The judge said there was more than one case with "almost identical facts".

Mr Justice Coleridge said one "truly worrying" case involving a Nigerian couple from London gave rise to "very real public interest, particularly the lack of involvement by the Nigerian authorities".

The mother said she was tricked by a doctor into believing she had given birth at a clinic in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in January 2011, while sedated, after she went to Nigeria for fertility treatment.

In his written ruling, which he released earlier, the judge said the couple were members of a charismatic church and had a "strong faith and belief in the power of prayer".

'Complete desolation'

The woman was "immersed in a Christian religious environment where miracles are not regarded as impossible," he said.

"All the mother's actions, in my judgment, both in this country and Nigeria, are consistent with her evidence that she had no idea she was involved in this strange scam, designed to put together unwanted children with desperate, childless parents.

"Her complete desolation when confronted with the reality, as attested to by ... the police ... supports her credibility."

The judge said he was "totally satisfied" that the mother "had no idea she was taking part in bogus fertility treatment, much less an elaborate and well-tried system for selling unwanted babies to desperate parents in exchange for very substantial sums of money".

He said the couple had been hoodwinked and were innocent victims.

Mr Justice Coleridge said he had been shown evidence gathered by an investigative journalist in Nigeria and a report from the Port Harcourt Vanguard newspaper September 2011, headlined: "Baby Factories: how pregnancies/deliveries are framed".

It said maternity homes used "illicit means" to procure babies for childless couples for "huge amounts of money".

The article added that clinics administered substances that "form a sort of tumour in the womb" making women think that they were pregnant.

Another substance was administered to give a "false impression of labour" and a "baby is then sneaked in and made to cry", the report said.

Mr Justice Coleridge said: "Having seen that article, there cannot be any doubt at all that this far-fetched story is rooted most solidly in reality and that this kind of practice is common in certain parts of Nigeria."

The baby the woman brought back from Nigeria was taken into foster care.

'Exploit people'

Last week, the judge ruled that the couple should be given custody of the girl, who is nearly two years old.

"The most important thing is to get the child settled into her final home," he said.

"She has no connections to anybody in this country as far as we can tell, or indeed to anybody in the world."

Some charities have expressed concerns that the judgement will have a wider negative effect and will encourage traffickers.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of Children and Families Across Borders, said: "These unscrupulous people will exploit people for vast amounts of money."

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