Where a Siberian Husky costs more than an unwanted baby

Dog lovers in Manila know the best place to have their canine sweethearts groomed, with paw nails clipped, body washed, and hair blow-dried to perfection. It is a place called Tiendesitas, a sprawling cacophony of shops that cater to foodies and pet owners in the fringes of Ortigas Avenue. One can find the most expensive pedigreed puppies there, from cuddly toy poodles to tall and sober-looking St. Bernard’s, with prices ranging from Php 9,000 to Php 32,000 depending on bloodlines and gender. Within the same complex, a dog lover can window shop for canine clothes, biscuits, canned food, toys, beds, and other accessories to make the pooch happy, and the pooch owner even happier.

Meanwhile, in the dark bowels of the city where flea-infested, smelly and famished dogs roam, new born babies are traded for much less than a pure-bred Japanese Akita or a true-blue Siberian Husky. Based on the research of the popular investigative show, “Imbestigador” helmed by veteran news anchor and broadcast journalist Mike Enriquez, the trafficking of babies is a growing social malady. A middle-aged woman served as a broker for unwanted infants – selling a male baby at Php 15,000 while female infants are priced higher at Php 20,000. Allegedly, the woman in question had already sold 15 babies, none of them hers. The woman earned from commissions for each transaction and was considered in her area the go-to person for mothers who wanted to get rid of their babies.

In Malaysia, a human trafficking syndicate that was busted in December 2009 yielded three one-day old baby girls including a baby born to a Filipino maid. The two other babies were born to two Indonesian women. The syndicate, according to the Malaysian police, has been operating for more than five years, and bought babies from women, mainly foreign maids, whose pregnancies were unwanted.

Based on news reports, the syndicate bought babies from foreign maids who were talked out of having abortions and given free healthcare during their pregnancy. The babies were sold between 15,000 to 20,000 ringgit ($4,400 to 5,900) each, while the women were paid 2,000 ringgit for their babies.

Unlike the trafficking of women and minors, the sale of infants is less prone to detection because the only victim who could say no, could not even say a word. This is why it is important to generate noise in their behalf, to legislate tougher laws against baby brokers, buyers and sellers, and to give information to authorities when someone you know engages in this sordid business.

The wheeling and dealing behind infant trafficking is done in secret, with transactions arranged in fast food chains and other public places, or at the home of the broker. The infant is the most vulnerable victim one can ever think of, and even if he or she ends up better-clothed and educated as a result of such secret transactions, the child grew up without even knowing who his or her biological parents are. Without even saying a word, the child’s identity has been stripped; and profit was made out of his or her innocence.

How can a mother sell her baby? Poverty. Survival. Thinking that the baby would be better off with people who can afford milk, diapers, clothes and a private education. Fear of reprisal from a husband back home due to an illicit affair that yielded an unwanted child. Certainly, there are places and institutions that such mothers can go to for help. But perhaps, we need to generate more awareness about where such havens are.

Our society has much ground to cover in enhancing child welfare and protection. Based on the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey, one in three births in the Philippines is unplanned. Such unwanted births are more likely to occur among older women rather than younger ones. According to the Council for the Welfare of Children, around 30,000 to 50,000 children are displaced by armed conflict every year during the last 4 years.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated around 60,000 to 100,000 children in the Philippines have been victimized by prostitution rings. Who knows how many Filipino children are there in the world languishing without legal papers as products of illicit affairs?

In a country where unwanted babies are sold for far less than pedigreed dogs, we all need to understand that life cannot be led in isolation from the rest – the earning and educated elite must share the burden of living with the desperately poor and the incomprehensively sinful. The full weight of our collective failure as a society to protect and nurture these children will bear down on us like the Titanic – no one is spared the indictment of an unwanted infant’s steady gaze and mute cries for help. We need tougher laws and more convictions to eradicate the trafficking of infants. We also need a more nurturing environment for our children, and mothers driven to the point of desperation that even an infant has become an item to be traded and bargained away. (Send your comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople. My blog is www.susanople.com)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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