Monday, 22 July, 2002

Police target Malaysia baby snatchers

Malaysian and Indonesian police are discussing ways to tackle the trade in babies sold on the black market. Poor Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia are often the target for what the authorities say is a growing problem.
The trade has fallen into the clutches of gangs who lure pregnant women into selling their babies to childless Malaysian couples who find the black market easier and faster than formal adoption.
One gang was even found to have kept 30 pregnant women at a single apartment in Kuching, central Malaysia.
Babies are either forcibly taken from the women, or bought for $1,200 to $4,800, depending on the appearance and health of the child.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) says the sale of babies worldwide is getting out of control, with many adoptions part of a growing illegal industry.
Most of the children come from developing countries and are sold to couples in the developed world trying to get around tough adoption laws at home.
Many of them, it says, are willing to pay $20,000 or more for a baby.
Penniless, unmarried and far from home, Rubina thought she had found a safe place to have her baby after being fired as a housemaid in Malaysia.
Like many Indonesian women without work permits, she was reluctant to go to the authorities.
"I had nowhere to turn. My boss told me to leave when my stomach started showing," she said.
But her boss told her that an "agent" would look after her. She ended up in a house with six other pregnant women.
Then the agent started offering her money for her unborn baby.
She said that the agent threatened to take away her baby if she did not give him up.
Rubina sought help at the Indonesian consulate in Kuching, which helped get her and 13 other migrant women back to Indonesia.
She is currently staying at a shelter run by the Legal Aid Foundation for Women in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province.
Most of the women never see their newborns again. But 21-year-old Evi was one of the lucky few who got her son back.
When she gave birth, the baby agents took him away without paying her, she said.
Five days later they told her that she could have him back, saying his eyes were not as slanted and his skin not as white as his would-be parents wanted.
"They (the new parents) said he was ugly," she said.
Evi now works at the Legal Aid Foundation in West Kalimantan helping women like herself.
"I'm just happy my baby is safe," she said.