MiD DAY's Bhupen Patel and Shubha Shetty-Saha posed as a childless couple looking to buy a baby. Within a week, this woman (a cook at an orphanage) sold them a 6-day-old boy.
In an explosive sting operation that lasted for about a week, MiD DAY blows the lid off a thriving baby-selling racket in the city, in which infants are sold like commodities for Rs 2-3 lakh.
Two MiD DAY reporters posed as a couple and approached the syndicate operating out of the innocuous, even respectable, setting of an orphanage for disabled kids in the far suburb of Ulhasnagar. At the end of the seven days, a six-day-old male child was sold to the undercover scribes for Rs 2.30 lakh, with zero paperwork and no waiting time.
A resort for innumerable childless couples in this city desperate to enjoy the joys of parenthood without the hassle of the long-winded legal adoption process, the orphanage offers many options for the illegal transaction.
The easiest of these is pay the cash and take the child home within a week, bypassing the interminable waits (anywhere over 2 years) and the extensive documentation required to establish your credentials and financial status. All one needs do is produce an identity proof -- authenticity no bar -- and the alleged racketeers hand over the child along with the birth certificate with your name on it.
The babies are procured from marginalised couples, who perforce or willingly, sell their offspring for a few thousand rupees: the promise of square meals or some extra money is enough to induce the poor women into being exploited and making reproduction their trade. While they get a minimum amount, the few employees abetting the illicit trade pocket a major share of the rewards.
The kingpin of the racket has been supplying newborns to builders, businessmen and other affluent people across the state, deprived of natural parenthood.
Other than the straightforward purchase, the alleged offenders offer the alternative of surrogacy at the price of Rs 10 lakh. The surrogacy option included choosing to establish sexual contact with a woman who would then bear the child in her womb, rather than the more traditional IVF (in-vitro fertilisation). For this, the rate card is contingent on the financial standing of the customer, and the demands of the surrogate mother. She may ask that her accommodation and medical expenses be borne till the time she delivers, other than her fee of a couple of lakhs.
After confirming the presence of the syndicate, we decided to 'buy' a child to establish the existence of this child trafficking.
The following is an in-depth account of the sting -- as narrated by MiD DAY reporters Bhupen Patel and Shubha Shetty-Saha -- starting from February 13, when they found out where the racket is taking place, and concluding seven days later with the sale of a baby.
Day 1: Monday
After a tip-off that some orphanages in Ulhasnagar are involved in selling newborns, we began approaching them incognito. After visiting a few ashrams, we confirmed that one Vijaya Sonawne, who cooks food for the orphans in the ashrams, is the woman who runs the syndicate.
Day 2: Tuesday
After running a background check, we approached her as a couple from Nashik. Since she belongs to the same place, we presumed it might help our cause.
We managed to win her confidence on the very first meeting, and she agreed to give us a newborn male child for Rs 3 lakh (which was finally renegotiated to Rs 2.3 lakh). She asked us to come the day after to see the baby.
Day 3: Wednesday
We met Sonawne outside Central Hospital in Ulhasnagar Sector-3. She told us that another woman (probably an agent) who works in a surrogacy clinic in Mulund, would take us to the baby, who was in a slum in Ulhasnagar with his family.
On our way there, Sonawne cautioned us not to speak to anyone about the money except her. She said she knew the 'right people' in the court so she could get the paperwork in order in just a day. She even volunteered to be the guarantor.
Bhupen: Maa baap ke samne kuch nahi bolne ka?
Sonawne: Maa baap to hoyenge naa samne.
Bhupen: Lekin woh log ko kuch nahi bolneka?
Sonawne: Nahi, kuch nahi bolneka. Abhi vakil se hi baat ki humne.
Bhupen: Kya bola vakil?
Sonawne: Woh karke dega.
Bhupen: Lekin woh bol raha hai naa ek din mein ho jayega.
Sonawne: Haan haan, ek din mein.
Bhupen: Toh hum logo ko kya kya lana padega?
Sonawne: Sirf address proof chahiye.
Bhupen: Matlab ID-card mein address proof?
Sonawne: Kuch bhi chalega.
We tried to negotiate the price with Sonawne, who warned us that if we tried haggling, the child would be sold to someone else.
Bhupen: Lekin tum usko bolo thoda kum karneko.
Sonawne: Main tumko bola naa. Yeh roj roj nahi milta hai. Saamne wala bhi to apna khudka baccha de raha hai. Nashik se bhi log leke gaye hain. Bade bade business hain. Paanch hazar rupaye woh log ne pyaar se mujhe diya tha.
Bhupen: Kitna kum ho sakta hai lekin. Hum log thoda financial crisis mein hai.
Sonawne: Abhi tumko kya bola. Raat ko isliye maine usko 11.00 baje phone kiya. Woh bolti hai ki saamne wale ka ekdum final hai. (Referring to another case) Maine kiya hai ye. Ek kiya hai. Teen mahina hua yeh baat ke liye. Phir mereko maloom hai woh logo (the child's parents) ka aadat. Phir woh bolte hai jaane do hum logo ke paas koi doosra ayega. Lekin apne ko jarurat hai naa.
Sonawne: Jinhone liya tha na pehli baar, unhone doodh ki bottle tak rakha tha Nashik mein. Lekin uski mummy bolti ki mereko bachcha deneka nahi. Nahi boli. Unko paisa diya tha Rs 20,000. Sab ho gaya tha. Pandit se pooja-path sab kiya tha. Magistrate ke saamne bola mereko nahi dena hai.
Shubha: Arrey baap re.
Sonawne: Main unko bola jo naseeb mein hai, woh tumko milega. Phir hum log Nashik se wapas ghar aaye Ulhasnagar mein. Woh bole ke madam humko tumhare pe vishwas hai, aisehi chhod ke gaye paisa mere paas. Teen lakh rupaya. Aisa teen mahina mere paas paisa pada tha. Tabhi mereko phir yeh (infant) Ghatkopar se mila. Phir unko diya na to itni khushi ho gayi. Maine usko do din apne paas rakha, nihlaya. Usko upar ka doodh diya. Usko aadat lagaya. Do din tak usko aang ka doodh (breast milk) pilaya. Teesre din bottle ka diya. Ekdum mast raha mere paas. Phir do mahine ke baad mere paas aaye maine unko dattak patra banake diya. Woh dattak patra bhi hai unke paas.
Bhupen: Accha kal nahi ho sakta kya? (Asking about the paperwork)
Sonawne: Kal woh nahi ho payega.
Shubha: Inko bahut jaldi hai.
Bhupen: Accha abhi maa baap se kya baat karneka.
Sonawne: Kuch bhi nahi. Saamne wali bhi aayegi na to kuch baat nahi karneka. Sab baat karneka. Mere se karneka. Pehle baccha dekho phir medical report dekhneka. Main bhi aisa phasane ka kaam nahi karti hai.
Bhupen: Yeh area mein, Thane mein, kahi diya hai kya baccha aapne.
Sonawne: Nashik mein diya chaar paanch baccha.
Bhupen: Aur Alibaug mein?
Sonawne: Woh Kalyan mein rehte hai. Lekin procedure karne ke liye woh Alibaug mein gaye. Bhagwan bhi dekho na jidhar deneka kitna deta hai. Aur apne ko ho nahi raha hai.
Shubha: Yeh jo madam (Ratna) aa rahee hai, yeh aapke bharose wali hai na?
Sonawne: Unse hi maine saamne wale ko diya hai. Uska ghar var sab kucch mereko maloom hai. Vitthalwadi mein uska ghar hai.
Bhupen: Lekin yeh Mulund se aa rahi hai na abhi.
Sonawne: Mulund mein baby tube karne ke liye hospital mein ladki leke jaati hai yeh. Unka woh hospital hai, bahut bada hai, aapne paper mein bhi pada hoga.
Shubha: Aapke pati kya karte hai?
Sonawne: Mera pati Nashik mein hai, bada dukaan hai humara. Flat hai mera, chaar room hai. Government ka bhi mereko one room mila hai.
Shubha: Idhar kaun rehta hai?
Sonawne: Idhar main aur meri mummy rehti hai. Mera transfer idhar ho gaya na isi liye.
Bhupen: Woh jo stamp paper banate hai uspe kya likha rehta hai?
Sonawne: Woh jo maa baap hai, woh likh ke dete hain, 'hum humari marzee se bacchha de rehe hain'.
Bhupen: Kitne rupiya ka stamp paper?
Sonawne: Woh 100 rupiye stamp paper pe.
Shubha: Baad mein kuch problem nahi hoga na?
Sonawne: Nahi nahi. Yeh jo dattak patra hai na, tumko school mein ayega, ration card mein uska naam dalne ayega.
Shubha: Matlab birth certificate jaisa hai.
Sonawne: Haan Haan, matlab woh (birth certificate) bhi un log ke naam se ayega na. Woh bhi tumhare naam se banake degi. Matlab woh jo card hai naa, uske upar tumhara naam dalke. Uske upar kuch nahi rehta hai. Bas mummy ka naam hota hai; aur ladka hai ya ladki, yeh hota hai. Mahanagarpalika (municipal corporation) mein meri saheli hai. Woh karke degi.
Shubha: Uska kuch extra paisa hoga kya?
Sonawne: Nahi nahi. 100-200 rupiye ki baat hai. Aise hi karke degi. Woh chhodo. Mere taraf se paise ka tension mat karo. Aise zindagi mein bahut paisa dekha hai aur bahut kamaya hai.
In the second half of the day, we were introduced to the woman, Ratna Ubale from Mulund. She took us to a slum where the mother of the child was introduced to us. She lived in a big family, with her husband, two kids, sister, brother and others. She was apparently selling the kid because she did not want it. Ratna was heard boasting about how she dissuaded the mother from aborting the child, so she could make some money after the birth.
Shubha: (after looking at the child): So cute
Sonawne: (comments on the baby's nose): Yacha naak bagitla ka, majya poori sarkha hai.
Bhupen: Iska wazan kitna hai.
Sonawne: Dhai kilo.
Ratna: Ata sukla tari nahi tar janamla tevha mast hota (The baby has become thin now but he was healthier when at the time of the birth).
Sonawne: Mast zoplay na (How restfully it is sleeping).
Sonawne: Baal bill mast hai naa.
(We then proceeded to pose for pictures with the baby)
Ratna (explaining why the woman doesn't want to keep the child): ek ladka aur ek ladki hai usko.
Bhupen: Bahut achha, pyara bachha hai.
For the sake of appearances, we handed over Rs 101 to the baby's mother for good omen, and got out of the house. We waited outside the door to listen in on their conversation. Ratna and the baby's aunt were trying to persuade the mother to give it away. Since she was planning to abort the child anyway, she should give it away and help herself to some extra cash, they argued to coax her into their plan.
Once outside, Sonawne warned us again not to discuss the deal in front of Ratna.
Day 4: Thursday
Following telephonic negotiations with Sonawne, she agreed to give the child for Rs 2.20 lakh. Since it was the day of the BMC election, the courts were shut, and the woman asked us to come the day after to get the paperwork sorted.
Day 5: Friday
We visited Sonawne to hand over the first instalment of Rs 60,000. She asked us not to come the next day for the remainder. "It's a Saturday, not an auspicious day to take the child home," she explained. She asked us to give the remainder at the earliest, and take the baby and get the documents fixed later.
Bhupen: Mausi, do me bitha do na (negotiating to bring the amount to Rs 2 lakh).
Sonawne: Nahi do mein nahi, who log bolte hai un logo ke paas doosri party hai.
Bhupen: Baki ka paisa de diya to turant bachcha de denge?
Sonawne: Yeh hath mein paisa, yeh haath mein bachcha. (Talking about Ratna) Uss din phone pe didi (Shubha) ne sab suna. Woh boli kaisi ajab aurat hai. Usko boli medical report sab poora kaam karke deneka. Mummy ka bhi report aur uska bhi report. Woh bol rahi thi kal hi paper banao. Maine to kal hi stamp paper lekar rakh liya tha. Vakil bola mein notary karke de deta hu. Tumko boli na main ek din mein karke degi. Vakil to apna aadmi hai. Usko main fees ek mahine baad degi. Itna to vishwas hain na vakil ka.
Bhupen: Aur kuch thoda bahut kum to karega na.
Sonawne: Main tumko kya bola, 30,000 main khud dungi tumko apne taraf se. Mereko tum 6 mahine mein do, itna vishwas hai mereko. Main government servant hoon, aisi vaisi raste wali aurat thodi hi hoon. Nashik mein tum mera flat dekho, ghar dekho. Tumko yakin nahi aayega. Tumko do bees (Rs 2,20,000) lana hoga poora.
Bhupen: 60,000 diya na... toh aur mereko aapko dena hai 1,60,000.
Bhupen: Matlab abhi maine aapko yeh paisa diya, aap kisi aur ko bachcha nahi dikhaogi.
Day 6: Saturday
We were told to bring the cash and take the baby on Sunday.
Day 7: Sunday
As per Sonawne's instructions, we went to Ulhasnagar with the remaining amount of Rs 1.6 lakh. There, Sonawne took the money and said, "Get your identity proofs on Tuesday and I will see to it that your paperwork is done." After a wait of about four hours, the child was handed over to us with his medical reports, along with a casual remark that we should take care of it. Sonawne asked for another Rs 10,000 which we paid her, bringing the sum total to Rs 2.3 lakh.
Following that, we approached a government organisation, Childline, whose officials approached the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), which then helped admit the baby in Vishwa Balak Kendra orphanage in Nerul. This was accomplished with the help of social worker Sharad Barse, who works with Aasra Childline in Kalyan. We gave a copy of the videos recorded during the course of the sting to Barse. The evidence will be submitted to the CWC.
Surrogacy through intercourse
During our interaction with Sonawne, we stumbled upon a sordid case of how a woman conceived for a rich businessman.
According to Sonawne, a builder from Alibaug, who desperately wanted a son, approached her. His wife had given birth to two sets of twin girls. Since she had to undergo C-sections both the times, he didn't want to risk her health again. The builder was reluctant on adoption as well as IVF-surrogacy. So Sonawne suggested that she could get a woman to stay with him and bear him a child through natural intercourse, she said. She arranged a woman from Nashik, she claimed. The intercourse happened with the wife's knowledge and consent.
The builder bought the lady a flat to stay for a while, and impregnated her. At a sonography centre near Shirdi, which Sonawne claimed is yet another of her contacts, it was discovered that the sex of the foetus was male.
According to Sonawne, the woman is six months into pregnancy today and is being looked after by the builder's wife.
During our first meet with Ratna Ubale, one of the alleged abettors of the child trafficking syndicate, she dropped a hint that we should also opt for a surrogate child, and went on to elaborate the procedure followed by her clinic.
Ratna said that she has been working in a clinic at Mulund, which helps couples keen on surrogacy. She explained that if we opt for it, we would have to pay the mother Rs 2.45 lakh, and bear her medical expenses. The total expenditure would be up to Rs 10 lakh.
However, according to Sonawne -- the key person of the syndicate -- Ratna who has been helping her clinic to get surrogate mothers from the outskirts of Mumbai -- takes away a major portion of the fee meant for them. Sonawne revealed that she had housed one such surrogate mother who had been brought to her by Ratna.
Sonawne added that Ratna gets a commission of Rs 20,000 for every surrogate she brings. Apart from that, she takes Rs 2,000 from the Rs 8,000 paid to surrogate mothers every month by the couple. Further, after the child is delivered, Ratna takes Rs 50,000 from the total of Rs 2.5 lakh paid to the mother.
Adopting a baby... legally
Legally adopting a child is a long-drawn-out process, where at every step the eligibility of the couple wishing to adopt a child is tested. It requires many documents:
1 Residence proof
2 Bank account statements
3 Photographs of the couple
4 Medical certificates, tests, which include HIV tests
5 Salary slips
6 Three letters of guarantee from friends, but not family, of the couple
7 Two Doctors' certificates: one from a family doctor, another from a gynaecologist
8 One letter from a guardian, who promises to take care of the child, if it is a working couple
9 A letter from a family member promising to take care of the child if the parents pass away before the child turns 18.
First, the couple is asked whether they would prefer to adopt a boy or a girl. Then, they are asked to submit the above documents.
A social worker visits the couple's house, and interviews them to gauge the authenticity of their claims and to know if they will be good parents. After the social worker's nod, the couple is allotted a child according to the availability.
The age of the child depends on the age of the parents. It is the sole discretion of the charity organisation as to which child to be allotted. If the couple doesn't like the child, they have to provide ample reason why they are saying no. The organisation ensures that the child has gone through all medical tests. The couple is asked to get the child tested by their own doctor for further assurance. Then the legal process starts. It takes at least three months for the couple to take the child home.
Some organisations do not accept any money but ask for a mandatory deposit of about Rs 20,000-50,000 in the child's name. Some organisations ask the aspiring parents to pay a nominal amount of Rs 50 per day of the period that the child was with the orphanage, plus medical expenses, if any, borne by the orphanage during the child's stay there.