*Flavour’s lyrics in ‘Ada Ada’ (a chart topping wedding song in Nigeria) mirrors vividly the expectations of society from newlyweds when he sang towards the end of the song, as the newlyweds were been driven out of the wedding venue, that ‘….in 9 months time we will come visiting…’, in direct reference to when the mother of the bride will go to tend to the new born child, or as in Flavour’s song to the ‘twins’.
The pressure in societies like Nigeria for married couples to have children as soon as they are married, and the linking of fertility and the ability to have one’s own children to success in marriage, even by clergy as one sanctioned by YAHWEH has continued to put a lot of pressure on couples battling with infertility and challenges in having children even as early as just a year into married life.
Some cultures in Nigeria have even thrown to the dogs the age long ‘bloodied white handkerchief’ sign of virginity before marriage on the wedding night for proof of conception before marriage, even some churches with stringent ‘virginity rules’ have learnt to look the other way when the bride is found to be pregnant before the wedding day, especially when affluent members of the church are involved. Many relationships have become jettisoned and haven’t progressed to marriage just because one or both parties conducted fertility tests and found that either or both of them were infertile.
Fertility tests before marriage now ranks topmost, even above HIV and Blood Group test.
Unfortunately, the cost of procuring assisted conception remain very exorbitant in Nigeria and the fact that it’s not always a one-off guarantee has kept that promising alternative out of the reach of many Nigerians especially the middle class relating to cost, and sometimes the wealthy relating to frustration associated with failed attempts.
Though adoption is quite gaining some acceptability, it’s still not totally accepted in society, especially by relatives of couples who have taken that bold step, who continue to see (sometimes even) treat the kid as different.
Childless couples willing to adopt also find it difficult, as the bodies responsible for ensuring that the orphan gets the family that’ll guarantee his/her best interests shuts out many for reasons bordering most times on the pecuniary.
As is customary with most things Nigerian, once proper channels become a tad tedious, the black market option springs up immediately, not just to remain clandestine, but to rival and even overtake the legitimate route.
So, less than 5 years ago, the first ‘BABY-MAKING FACTORY’ was discovered somewhere in Nigeria’s East, masquerading as an ORPHANAGE. These factories had several pregnant teenage girls, catered for alongside orphans that have been abandoned by girls or women who have considered their pregnancies ‘unwanted’.
Most of the pregnant teenagers were found in pitiable conditions, many abandoned by their families for bringing shame on the families for getting pregnant before wedlock.
Many of the teenagers have run from their families because of incestuous relationships and abuse inherent in paternalistic cultures prevalent in most parts of Nigeria which makes their continued stay in their homes untenable.
These were usually the core of teenagers these orphanages provided succour for in the early days before it became the all comers affair it has become today, where teenage girls are now lured with sumptuous amounts (in their estimation) representing a meagre percentage of what their proprietors will get, to serially become pregnant and give away their babies to interested ‘clients’, making the trade alluring even to professional prostitutes especially when an orphanage is willing to pay top dollar of a wealthy client’s pay, but mostly the ‘Factories’ have preference for naive teenagers who have nowhere else to turn.
What started off in the Igbo speaking part of Nigeria has now proliferated to the South Western parts with the latest discovery been in Ogun State, where the proprietor claimed, when she was arrested, that she ensures that the children she gives out goes only to those whom she knows can take care of them after carrying out ‘tests’ to ensure that the couples truly are childless. To the question of the risk of the kids been bought by ritual killers, she said she routinely places her hands on the heads of children to bless them before giving them away.
The story of Baby-Making factories isn’t even as intriguing as that of the women who patronize these places to procure children with or without the knowledge of their husbands.
Once the deal is struck between the prospect and proprietors, the woman is adviced to feign a pregnancy, the delivery of which is timed to that of the teenage girl whose pregnancy has been secured.
The women play everyone around them (even the husband when he isn’t in on it), going only to the hospital approved by the orphanage for the ‘fake’ antenatal visits or none at all.
In one instance, one of the ‘beneficiaries’ was called and told to the chagrin of an eavesdropping husband to start coming down to the Eastern part of Nigeria from Lagos where she lives to come and put to bed, the caller in anger queried her as to what she was still doing in Lagos seeing that she was supposed to be in ‘Labour’. Her husband thenceforth played along, even carried his wife to the so called clinic in the East.
He wasn’t allowed to go into the Labour Room, but once the coast became clear, he forced his way through to discover the scam his wife had become a part of.
Some other stories are even more ridiculous, even of women receiving certain injections that made their bellies protrude till the 9th month, when they go to claim their child, then undergo further treatments to flatten their bellies.
Many of these women feed their babies with ‘Baby Milk Formulars’, right from onset because they cannot breastfeed their babies.
The recent arrests have shown these practices to be widespread, involving even medical doctors, Non-Governmental Organizations, even government institutions and social workers, and clients extend far beyond the borders of Nigeria with Nigerians in diaspora coming back home to avail themselves of the opportunity to acquire children with minimum stress and supervision, for ends that now seem to look not just for reason of having their own kids, but even sinister in outlook.
If society stops laying emphasis on procreation and reduce the pressure on childless couples, maybe the demand for these places will fizzle out.
Orphanages and government institutions from where adoption can be legally procured needs to become more visible, accessible with less stringent demands as requirements. Wealth alone cannot and shouldn’t be the only criteria intending parents need to pass for adopting a child.
The cost of procuring fertility treatments as well as artificial conception should be reviewed downwards. It isn’t enough for government to simply rise against foreign donors who commit funds towards population control, and whose money they spend some part of (while pocketing considerable sums into private bank accounts) working towards the same goal without moving towards backing their angst at those activities by supporting fertility clinics nationwide, either privately or publicly funded.
If things remain this way, then I fear that Baby-Making factories will remain with us for a long time, becoming even more sinister in their activities.
*Flavour is Nigeria’s foremost Hi-Life crooner.